For all the skewering, this is a well-researched, passionate tribute to books and authors that have left their marks.



A subversive lampoon of the Western literary canon.

Culture writer and creator of the parody Twitter account @guyinyourmfa, Schwartz (Choose Your Own Disaster, 2018, etc.) distills 500 years of literary history through the eyes of a fictional know-it-all. This entertaining guide starts with Shakespeare and winds through Goethe, Tolstoy, Faulkner, and fiction’s heavy hitters, culminating with the Jonathans (Franzen, Safran Foer, and Lethem). Each profile summarizes a particular author’s biographical highlights and major works. Amid factual details, the MFA student inserts revealing asides and footnotes. Off-track forays, from how to roll cigarettes to how to pen dirtier love notes à la Joyce, build a road map for emulating the ultimate writer. Pointed descriptions home in on the features that have stained some of the authors' reputations. Failed marriages, self-absorption, Updike’s infamous Rabbit character, and uglier histories—such as Mailer’s violence—portray a flawed bunch. Comedy writer and cartoonist Katzenstein creates expressive, grayscale headshots with sartorial flair. Ranging from brow-heavy seriousness to closed-mouth smiles, the authors’ faces are humorously annotated. (Of Kafka: “Auteur hair.” Henry James: “Eye bags—genius never sleeps.” Kerouac: “Perfect swoop.”) Each is given a yearbook hall-of-fame title, such as Milton, a “Goody Two-Shoes,” Fitzgerald, who’s crowned “Prom King,” and Vonnegut, “Most Dependable.” Such offhand remarks are clever rather than blistering. Fittingly, the MFA student is blind to his fawning taste. The role demands a misogynist who pretends to be “woke” and who considers New York as the only literary hub worth mentioning. Schwartz's knowingness and thorough commitment are consistently humorous. She writes the MFA guy with sincere, cringing acuity, and the act stays fresh. An affectionate naiveté offsets his ambition, and the literary overview is useful. A reading list rounds out the compendium, a fun read for the aspiring literati.

For all the skewering, this is a well-researched, passionate tribute to books and authors that have left their marks.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-286787-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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


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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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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