A quirky inquiry into the nature of the blues. Although written to accompany a three-part series on PBS, this book is more substantive than most TV tie-ins. Davis (Outcats, 1990, etc.), music critic for the Atlantic, divides his investigation into three sections: the ``prehistory'' of the blues; a more or less chronological portrait of leading blues figures; and a discussion of the blues revival and the reasons why an African- American folk art appeals so strongly to a white, urban audience. His approach is highly personal. He begins the book by recounting his trip to Clarksdale, Miss., a mecca for blues lovers in the heart of the Delta country. An outsider to the culture of the blues, Davis invites the reader to share his puzzlement at the deep faith of rural performers (``There are people who grow up actually reading the Bible...who accept what I read as lunatic ravings as both prophecy and literal history''). But he also tries to provoke the reader with outrageous comments, as when he describes Mick Jagger as ``the most famous of contemporary minstrels [who] sings and struts as though trying to get in touch with his Inner Negro.'' The heart of the book is a series of thumbnail sketches of key performers that capture the essence of what makes each performer great. His description of Big Joe Williams is particularly apt: ``He looked like the whale that swallowed Jonah, and sounded like Jonah bellowing to get out.'' Sadly, the accompanying selection of photos is uninspired, relying heavily on oft-published shots. The final section, on the blues revival, is perhaps the most interesting. In it, Davis underscores many of the ironies that occurred when white revivalists ``rediscovered'' the blues performers of the 1920s and '30s, many of whom had to be retaught their own songs because they had long since quit playing. This deserves wide reading among fans of blues and traditional musical forms. (100 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-7868-6052-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1994

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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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