A prolific author’s animated ruminations on the risks and rewards of writing. Busch (Closing Arguments, 1991, etc.) is the author of 21 books of primarily fiction. Writing is his calling; he has no choice but to engage in what he sadly observes is a self-indulgent and often ruinous career. But the very fact that “it costs too much to write,” Busch argues, forces the author to a higher plane of his craft. As he illustrates in these essays on his own career and those of others, salvation from this dangerous profession lies in surrendering one’s passions to developing fictional characters and to pleasing someone other than oneself—the reader. The 16 essays offered here originally appeared primarily in literary or book reviews. They are divided into two parts; one devoted to essays that stem from Busch’s writing life, the other to the writings of others. Busch writes about his personal experience as a writer at various stages of his career, about writers, friends, and family who have influenced his work. The opening essay, “My Father’s War,” reveals memoir-writing at its best and demonstrates, not in argument, but in style what Busch is getting at in these essays. While unified by Busch’s passionate approach, this eclectic collection ranges from reflections on the author’s Brooklyn-based boyhood and early career in New York to a hilarious but serious diatribe on things “bad.” Among the “bad” are the postmodern critics who “do not love anything except the control they exercise in alleging the artist’s uncontrol.” Busch’s essays on other writers include the famous (Melville, Hemingway, and Dickens) and the underappreciated (Leslie Epstein, John O’Hara, and Terrence des Pres). By conveying with passion and insight why a literary work moves him, he excites the reader to read or reread books that have long gone stale in our imaginations. Writing and reading are reunited by an author who, in these essays, shows himself to be a sharp reader, too.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19255-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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