BETTER THAN LIFE

This ode to the joys of reading is itself no joy to read. Pennac, a novelist and secondary school teacher in France (where this book was a bestseller), takes an idea that, if presented succinctly, could make a fairly interesting essay: Parents and schools, each in their own way, help turn reading into a dreary activity; however, if students were encouraged to engage in reading as an enjoyable process rather than as something else to be tested on, some might recognize and regain the sheer pleasure that, as young children, they once took in stories. Unfortunately, the author, even as he recognizes the simplicity of this idea, labors mightily to make it sound profound, and all too often the resulting text is simply fatuous, as in these sentence fragments rendered as four separate paragraphs: ``Read. Out loud. For the sheer pleasure of it. His [your child's] favorite stories.'' At times Pennac's comments sound like they have escaped from an intensely saccharine self-help book: ``What is love, if not the gift of our preference to those we prefer? Those acts of sharing fill the secret fortress of our freedom.'' Rounding out the volume is a discussion of ten rights Pennac claims for readers, including the rights not to read at all, not to finish what one does read, to read for escapism, and to reread particular favorites. Yet on closer inspection, some of these rights are less than absolute. For example, in discussing the right to read anything, ``anything'' is equated with novels, and Pennac is endorsing the right to read ``bad'' novels not for themselves but as part of the process of moving toward becoming readers of ``good'' novels. For Pennac the happy ending may be for young people to become readers like him. If reading is indeed ``better than life,'' you can't prove it by this book.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-88910-484-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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