LIFE IS SO GOOD

The memoir of George Dawson, who learned to read when he was 98, places his life in the context of the entire 20th century in this inspiring, yet ultimately blighted, biography. Dawson begins his story with an emotional bang: his account of witnessing the lynching of a young African-American man falsely accused of rape. America’s racial caste system and his illiteracy emerge as the two biggest obstacles in Dawson’s life, but a full view of the man overcoming the obstacles remains oddly hidden. Travels to Ohio, Canada, and Mexico reveal little beyond Dawson’s restlessness, since nothing much happens to him during these wanderings. Similarly, the diverse activities he finds himself engaging in—bootlegging in St. Louis, breaking horses, attending cockfights—never really advance the reader’s understanding of the man. He calls himself a “ladies’ man” and hints at a score of exciting stories, but then describes only his decorous marriage. Despite the personal nature of this memoir, Dawson remains a strangely aloof figure, never quite inviting the reader to enter his world. In contrast to Dawson’s diffidence, however, Glaubman’s overbearing presence, as he repeatedly parades himself out to converse with Dawson, stifles any momentum the memoir might develop. Almost every chapter begins with Glaubman presenting Dawson with a newspaper clipping or historical fact and asking him to comment on it, despite the fact that Dawson often does not remember or never knew about the event in question. Exasperated readers may wonder whether Dawson’s life and his accomplishments, his passion for learning despite daunting obstacles, is the tale at hand, or whether the real issue is his recollections of Archduke Ferdinand. Dawson’s achievements are impressive and potentially exalting, but the gee-whiz nature of the tale degrades it to the status of yet another bowl of chicken soup for the soul, with a narrative frame as clunky as an old bone.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50396-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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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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