Humorous, genial tales of living in a small New England town, in a big old house demanding a handyman’s talents that New Yorker writer Owen (The Walls Around Us, 1991, etc.) doesn’t possess. Here are a fistful of quick sketches, fruity and clever, about the pitfalls and bonuses of owning a rambling 19th-century house, about encroaching middle age and the growing children who make that state of affairs so obvious, about knowing you have a pretty good job and an even better life but are forever dreaming of more. Owen is like a chummy frat pal full of ideas about optimizing goof-off time and who can write about it with easy grace. These collected pensÇes are mostly spot on, if obvious—he notes that —learning by doing invariably means learning by doing wrong” and that one might resent weekenders to his village, who “pump money into the town, often recklessly,— but at least they “don’t pump hazardous chemicals into the river.” Then there are times when he trots out one too many Owenisms, irksome and bourgeois, that clash with his eccentricity: “a tattered old sweater wouldn’t feel as comfortable if you didn’t also own a three-piece suit,” or “choosing clothes from a pile on a couch seems almost like shopping—an emotional plus.” Then he will make playful with the money issue—as when he is in the “throes of a powerful urge to spend a lot of money belonging to a bank”—and pull readers back into his comfortable groove. He is at his most delightful when cutting across the grain, boasting that of the $22 billion devoted by Americans to their lawns, virtually none was spent by him, and that McDonald’s fries are an ideal open-chain hydrocarbon for removing oil paint from your hands. Reading Owen is like getting a gentle, relaxing massage as opposed to a Rolfing session. His pen is facile, his stories pleasing and fleeting.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-45655-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



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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