Though Bram teaches at NYU, there’s no hint of academic stuffiness in a book that offers the joy of reading as well as...

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THE ART OF HISTORY

UNLOCKING THE PAST IN FICTION AND NONFICTION

An amiable stroll through selected works of history and historical fiction, showing how the lines between them blur and how each can inform the other.

The author of nine novels and two works of nonfiction, Bram (Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, 2012, etc.) plainly delights in reading about the past and is only discriminate about quality, not genre, as he feeds his “history addiction.” He immerses himself in the historical past for all the usual reasons and not necessarily the most high-minded: “I believe history’s original appeal is as pure escape,” he writes. “The past offers a fact-based fantasy, a dream with footnotes….As the flight attendants instruct us before takeoff, ‘The nearest exit may be behind you.’ ” Though Bram acknowledges how we can benefit from history, learn from it, and deepen our perspective, it’s refreshing that he underscores the pure pleasure of reading and that he takes such delight in it. He believes that “much can be gained by treating fiction and nonfiction as different sides of the same mountain” and that “while fiction strives for the condition of history, many history books hope to achieve the high drama of novels.” The author shows how some of the most successful and popular works of history employ narrative momentum and character development that could be termed novelistic, while historical novels (War and Peace is “the gold standard of historical fiction”) depend on researched detail and plausibility. The author’s argument isn’t as provocative as some of his counterintuitive judgments on highly praised works and authors, including Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (“a Game of Thrones for highbrows”) and Cormac McCarthy: “After you scrape off the fancy prose style, his novel Blood Meridian could be just the fantasy of a really mean fourteen-year-old boy who’s seen too many Sergio Leone movies.”

Though Bram teaches at NYU, there’s no hint of academic stuffiness in a book that offers the joy of reading as well as praising it.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-743-6

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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