Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.




An assortment of musings, cultural critiques, and memoir.

In this zesty collection of 74 pieces—some merely paragraphs—revised from work of the last 35 years, essayist, fiction writer, and biographer (of J.D. Salinger) Shields (Writer-in-Residence/Univ. of Washington; How Literature Saved My Life, 2013, etc.) reflects on family, love, contemporary culture, and his sometimes-problematic connection to other people. “I’m drawn to affectless people whose emptiness is a frozen pond on which I excitedly skate,” he admits. And: “I have trouble reading books by people whose sensibility is wildly divergent from my own.” In five sections, Shields considers Men (mostly his father); Women (many about a college sweetheart); Athletes; Performers (Oprah, Adam Sandler, Bill Murray); and Alter Egos, a motley category that contains essays on Brown, which he attended in the 1970s; infamous memoirist James Frey; and Shields’ career as a school-age athlete. “From kindergarten to tenth grade all I really did was play sports, think about sports, dream about sports,” he writes. “The body in motion is, for me, the site of the most meaning.” Beset with a severe stutter, he hoped that excelling as an athlete would make others forgive him for his “disfluency.” He shared a love of sports with his father, who suffered fom bipolar disorder and occasionally disappeared from the family for treatment. In several essays, Shields examines his Jewishness: “self-consciousness, cleverness, involution, ambivalence, pride, shame.” And he shows a particular sense of humor: he quotes comedian Milton Berle “turning down a second drink at a Catholic charity event: ‘Jews don’t drink; it interferes with our suffering.’ ” Shields credits lifelong back pain with giving him “an invaluable education in the physical, the mortal, the ineradicable wound.” He sums up what he learned: “Pain is inevitable,” one doctor told him. “Suffering is optional.” Many essays end in such aphorisms, and “Life Story” consists entirely of declarations that read like bumper stickers.

Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-35199-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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