As if Norman Mailer had devoured Derrida and spit out the bones.

READ REVIEW

OAKLAND, JACK LONDON, AND ME

Bare-chested, sometimes self-conscious lit-crit from novelist/professor Williamson (East Bay Grease, 1999, etc.).

Williamson’s ostensible subject is Jack London, who grew up down the street in Oakland a century before him. London does not figure in the canon, that body of received, approved literature of which Williamson is a champion: “When I get rolling in defense of the canon, my heart rate increases, my speech quickens, and I need only a pulpit to make the picture complete.” Not that the canon is complete. Williamson remarks that Poe was admitted to it not so long ago (perhaps, he does not say, because the French adore him), while Steinbeck and many others remain outside it. (Toni Morrison, on the other hand, is in it—Williamson finds her the lesser writer, but there it is.) London is problematic: He is, or at least was, popular, and “good stories that can be enjoyed by the hoi polloi . . . are not art”; and he espoused extreme political views that progressed from socialistic to fascistic with not much in between—all in keeping, Williamson proposes, with the luck of a poor kid who manages to get out of his crummy surroundings and then realizes just what lowlifes he had been forced to live among. Williamson, himself brought up in the East Bay’s rougher territory, stakes an us-against-the-world argument there: It’s a poor thing, and only someone brought up poor can understand why a person might call for the disenfranchisement of the unwashed masses. Mussolinian echoes aside, Williamson does venture that as the canon is changing and growing, it may find room for London and the other dead-end kids of the pen: “The poor are slowly infiltrating the ranks of academia, and in revolutionary fashion, they’re torching the fortress.” Fans of White Fang and The Iron Heel will rejoice. The deconstructionists, on the other hand . . .

As if Norman Mailer had devoured Derrida and spit out the bones.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-933896-11-3

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Texas A&M Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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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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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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