For armchair sightseers who take their travel books with a grain of salt.

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LOST COSMONAUT

OBSERVATIONS OF AN ANTI-TOURIST

Scottish globetrotter Kalder takes the road less traveled and returns with this gloomy, history-heavy, multi-part travelogue, three years in the making.

“The bleaker and more dismal the landscape, the more I enjoy it,” says the knowledgeable tour guide, a self-described “anti-tourist” eschewing comfort and banal, overcrowded destinations for the obscure and the unconventional. Kalder visits four forgotten Russian republic “black holes,” some seemingly frozen in time, others completely transformed by the machinations of a post-communist Russia. The first stop on Kalder’s walking tour is Kazan, the independently governed capital of Tatarstan, previously burned to the ground by Ivan the Terrible in 1552, now boasting a mosque construction site, a gruesome museum of medical oddities and a McDonald’s. Second stop: the strange, empty wastelands of the tree-worshipping Kalmykia people. Daunting to locate and mostly stagnant, its sad history of abolishment, deportation and disorientation makes for slow reading. Pagan-dominated Mari El, bordering Tatarstan on the north, proved a slightly more engaging locale. Abundant trees, lakes and “marriage agencies” make up for a resentful populace who have watched their city’s demographic change predominately to Russian. Fascinating intercourse with the much-revered, white-bearded, mystical high priest of the Chi Mari shockingly exposes him as a shameless self-promoter with dreams of celebrity. Udmurtia, another Republic assimilated by Russian inhabitants, houses a traditional, indifferent, squalor-stricken citizenry dominated by factories, squatting ice-fishermen and the homeless. This leaden, dreary vacation is finally countered with dark humor when Kalder is mercilessly grilled on camera by a dogged television journalist named Svetlana, posing some tough questions that render him speechless. Kalder is an unapologetically reclusive journeyman—the type who becomes paranoid in the company of complete strangers (as demonstrated by his hostile reaction to the flirtations of a smitten man in Kazan). His cavalier narration works best when taken in small doses, as do the jarring moments when the author openly admits to the fabrication of several dramatically detailed interactions.

For armchair sightseers who take their travel books with a grain of salt.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8994-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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