FAME AND FOLLY

ESSAYS

No trace of stingy critical minimalism can be found in Ozick's heated new essay collection. Instead, this critic (Metaphor and Memory, 1989, etc.) draws on her resources as a novelist—characterization, irony, metaphor, narrative ingenuity—to attack or affirm other writers and traditions. The boon: goodbye to the rarefied professional concerns and language of the common academic reader. The farewell is liberating. Even when you disagree resoundingly with Ozick, her conviction is likely to indirectly aid and clarify your own by offering an exemplary force of feeling and depth of reason. For example, "Old Hand as Novice," a piece about the experience of a novelist as a fledgling playwright, is pumped with literary bravado, as though the craft of theater had little to teach a tyro ("real apprenticeship is ultimately always to the self"). Yet the sometime beginner offers insights into a play's structure that are likely to impress. ("A novel is like the physicist's premise of an expanding universe . . . a play is just the reverse"). Ozick's range is remarkable, from literary memoir ("Alfred Chester's Wig") to criticism (of Henry James, George Steiner, Isaac Babel) to cultural history ("Against Modernity," a scathing appraisal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters). Her vituperative zeal can be suspect, as in the brilliant piece on her onetime friend Chester, which insists, unconvincingly, that an old rivalry has passed. But the author's powers of evocation tend to amaze, despite some moments of excess ("coiled in the bottommost pit of every driven writer is an impersonator—protean, volatile, restless, and relentless"). Ozick reminds us of how few critics are writers in their own right. The protean self-portraiture suggested here is at least as interesting as Ozick's critical votes.

Pub Date: May 3, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44690-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1996

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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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