High-octane lit-chat served cold, heavy on the bitters.

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DISTANT INTIMACY

A FRIENDSHIP IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET

Personal strangers and intellectual compadres discover they have a lot to complain about.

This yearlong collection of correspondence between writers who have never met—novelist and essayist Epstein (Essays in Biography, 2012, etc.) and screenwriter/novelist/biographer Raphael (A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus, 2013, etc.)—reveals a blossoming intellectual romance between provocateurs who hold nearly everything but each other in contempt. They loathe Susan Sontag, Hannah Arendt, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and anyone associated with the New York Review of Books; they like Henry James, Proust, ballet, the Greeks, Maugham and Balzac. They weigh grievances on editorial politics and prices, nurse old wounds, and match each other point for point on English and American culture and which of the two is more Jewish. The bonds tighten on more personal matters: Epstein mentions an upcoming birthday, which happens to be on the day before the anniversary of Raphael’s daughter’s death; Epstein knows the feeling of dread, having lost a son of his own. Raphael is the verbal highflier, studding every sentence with arcane references and French phrases, against which Epstein’s casual erudition usually comes as a relief. Both score good lines. Raphael, on Edmund Wilson’s fight with Vladimir Nabokov over the latter’s translation of Eugene Onegin: “E.W. had only himself to blame when Pushkin came to Shovekin.” Epstein, suspecting a writer named Eric Korn is actually a Korngold: “No one of the Hebrew persuasion is named Korn; he must have had the nomenclatural version of rhinoplasty done on his name.” They see through the sham of modern culture but not each other; they are mutual enablers, never noticing that their puns get lamer, spite more stale and grapes more sour.

High-octane lit-chat served cold, heavy on the bitters.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0300186949

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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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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