Like fine banquet fare: Some items to be wolfed down, some savored slowly, some best stored in the fridge for a later day.

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HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS AND HOW EASILY IT CAN BE BROKEN

ESSAYS

Erudite, occasionally curmudgeonly collection of reviews and ruminations by award-winning memoirist Mendelsohn (The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, 2006, etc.).

Most of these recent pieces first appeared in the New York Review of Books, whose generous space allotments give the author sufficient latitude to explore texts and performances in expansive, illuminating ways. Reviewing a staging of Euripides’s The Children of Herakles, Mendelsohn (Humanities/Bard Coll.) is able to elucidate the play’s historical context and the author’s biography as well as to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the design, direction and acting. He can thus display—and his readers benefit from—his potent critical tools: his vast knowledge, particularly of classical antiquity; his comprehensive reading; his remarkable capacity to see the tangled connections invisible to the less learned. Each review gives a mini-seminar on history, literature, biography and the arts. His interests range widely. He intelligently covers films about 9/11, Alexander the Great, the Trojan War and Virginia Woolf, cattily calling Nicole Kidman in The Hours “pretty without being beautiful.” He critiques productions of plays by Harold Pinter, Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde (who pops up continually) and Tennessee Williams (who gave Mendelsohn his title). He assesses Thucydides’ Histories of the Peloponnesian War and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Few critics can be more illuminating—and few more dismissive. Read consecutively, Mendelsohn’s essays begin to grate. He frequently implies that he alone gets what others manifestly failed to get. Sliced by his critical knife are some of his best-known colleagues, from Frank Rich and David Denby to unnamed others who gush and coo, avers the author, over trash, sentimentality and mistakes.

Like fine banquet fare: Some items to be wolfed down, some savored slowly, some best stored in the fridge for a later day.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-145643-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2008

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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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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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