Both a swift introduction for grammar rookies and an enlightening review and update for the veterans.




A celebrated historian of the English language takes us on an entertaining stroll through the history of our grammar—from the beginning to last week.

As prolific as he is knowledgeable about our language, Crystal has written with erudition and wit about subjects as varied as the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s English (The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation, 2016) and the language’s odd spelling (Spell It Out, 2013). Here, the author has several related intents: to explain what grammar is (and isn’t), provide a history of our grammar, illustrate some common grammatical issues, show the varieties of English, chide (gently) our many unyielding prescriptivists (he does call them “pedants” a couple of times), and make general recommendations about the teaching and testing of grammar. The chapters are brief and tightly focused, many followed by an interlude that deals with a specific issue that lies, only slightly, outside the text—e.g., the ways we pluralize our nouns and some stories of the earliest grammarians. Crystal’s prose is generally light and accessible, though there are times (see the chapter about the evolution of English from Old to today) when his diction and discussion could dissuade the timorous. Some fussy readers may be surprised (or pleased?) to see his use of “mindset” and “refers back,” but he displays a similar joy in “catching” some recent grammar and usage absolutists who commit the very errors they condemn. Throughout, the author is a gifted, agile, and amusing teacher, traits we see in his passages about how it would go if we were able to chat with Beowulf, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. He also shows how prescriptive grammar rose and fell, replaced by descriptive, and how much standardized grammar testing for youngsters is flawed.

Both a swift introduction for grammar rookies and an enlightening review and update for the veterans.

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-066057-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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