A journey that loses its way on the road to significance.

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LONG WAY HOME

ON THE TRAIL OF STEINBECK'S AMERICA

The thin chronicle of a cross-country trip modeled on John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

When Barich (A Pint of Plain: Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, 2009, etc.) revisited the 1962 classic and decided it was ripe for an update, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Most readers remember the travelogue as comic in tone, but Barich found much of its social commentary not only bleak but prophetic. So he committed himself to a two-month, 6,000-mile drive across the country, avoiding cities and major highways as much as possible while trying to take the pulse of the country on the eve of a pivotal presidential election. Unfortunately for the reader, too much of what the author offers as discovery is obvious to the point of cliché. A California hippie in the 1960s who has spent nearly a decade in Ireland, he learns on his return to his homeland that many conservatives not only listen to talk radio but parrot the likes of Rush Limbaugh. “In an earlier century, they’d have been selling snake oil,” he writes of airwave propagandists. He finds an America overrun by chain operations and malls—“repetitiveness robs travel of its essence. There’s nothing to discover”—yet he also finds some good fishing here and there, some natural beauty (particularly in Colorado) and some tasty meals in regional restaurants. Most of the places he visits merit little more than a page, while some are dispensed in a paragraph. When he moves from the specific to the general, the results can be glib: “Often I think Mexicans know something I don’t. They seem to have an ease of being I envy. I can’t remember ever meeting a dour Mexican in California—nasty, yes, and even obnoxious, but never dour.” He sees challenges and contradictions in the American ethos, but ultimately proclaims that he is “more hopeful than Steinbeck.”

A journey that loses its way on the road to significance.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1754-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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