A trove of fine writing on big issues, albeit at the expense of more playful exemplars of the contemporary essay.

READ REVIEW

THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2012

Well-told pieces on a narrow range of subjects define the latest iteration of the Best American Essays franchise.

This year’s batch of selections tends toward informative—sometimes wonkish—works of reportage and memoir. That should come as no surprise given that proudly egghead-ish New York Times columnist Brooks is doing the selecting. (As ever, series editor Robert Atwan performs the initial cull.) Brooks makes his intentions clear in his introduction, writing that “I want to be improved by the things I read”—much of which includes writing on medicine and health care: Eight of the 25 selections deal with the topic in some matter—nine if you include Jonathan Franzen’s “Farther Away,” featuring some musings on his friend David Foster Wallace’s depression and suicide. Some writers attack the subject in dry expository prose, as in Marcia Angell’s “The Crazy State of Psychiatry,” which condemns the overdiagnosis of mood disorders. More often, though, the topic gets a personal touch, as in Miah Arnold’s “You Owe Me,” an essay on teaching writing to children in a cancer ward, or David J. Lawless’ brutal recollection of his wife’s descent into Alzheimer’s, “My Father/My Husband,” masterfully told almost entirely in dialogue. America’s education system is another pressure point for Brooks, who picks a clutch of pieces on the subject, the best being Garret Keizer’s straight-talking memoir of his time teaching poor elementary school kids, “Getting Schooled.” The downside of Brooks’ improvement agenda means humor is in short supply, notwithstanding Sandra Tsing Loh’s raucous meditation on menopause, “The Bitch Is Back.” Provocation and invention are rare too, though Mark Doty’s beautifully turned “Insatiable” savvily merges the friendship between Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker with the author’s own obsessions and fetishes. Other notable contributors include Francine Prose, Joseph Epstein, Malcolm Gladwell and Alan Lightman.

A trove of fine writing on big issues, albeit at the expense of more playful exemplars of the contemporary essay.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-84009-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

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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