WRITING LIVES IS THE DEVIL!

ESSAYS OF A BIOGRAPHER AT WORK

The ins and outs of the biographer's craft, by a man who has penned several (Fox at the Wood's Edge, 1990. etc.—not reviewed). Biography, it seems, is an enterprise fraught with dangers, and in these 13 essays, Christianson (History/Indiana State) tackles them all. Most worrisome is the biographer's relation to his subject: Adversary? Advocate? Christianson argues that the biographer must identify with his subject—even if the subject happens to be Adolf Hitler. A connected issue is that of privacy: While Christianson notes that Barbara Tuchman and many others have staunchly defended the limits of investigation, he points out that ``the biographer is necessarily intrusive.'' These edgy topics and others are illustrated by the author's experiences while writing lives of Sir Isaac Newton and Loren Eiseley, both of whom were difficult subjects (Christianson describes Newton as ``an emotional eunuch,'' and says that Eiseley's autobiographical writings were fraught with extensive dissembling). As for the biographer's tools, the most important is research; the author wittily recounts the pitfalls of interviewing the living (like Eiseley's widow, who reminded Christianson of Dickens's Miss Havisham) and of resurrecting the dead (usually by threading one's way through labyrinthine archives, where a friendly librarian makes all the difference). Also discussed are writer's block, agents, book titles, fan mail, the future of the craft, and the sublime pleasures of handling a piece of the past (in England, Christianson momentarily holds—and ponders pilfering—a lock of Newton's hair). Top-heavy with Eiseley and Newton anecdotes, limiting the popular appeal—but a must-read for biographers everywhere.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-208-02382-8

Page Count: 248

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1993

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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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

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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