A practical, nonboring companion for writers aiming to hone their style.


A self-described "language enthusiast" analyzes memorable sentences.

Woods, author of English Grammar for Dummies, among dozens of other books on writing and literature, offers an upbeat, informative guide for writers and readers, focused on the power of sentences. Each of the 25 chapters highlights one exemplary sentence, supplemented by many others that illustrate the same technique, drawn from a capacious range of sources, including Virginia Woolf, Stephen King, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, the King James Bible, and even ads for potato chips, candy, and soda. Woods avoids literary jargon and carefully explains terms that might be unfamiliar to nonspecialist readers. Looking at structure, for example, she identifies several interesting constructions—parallelism, reversed sentences, questions, for example—and “crossed sentences,” which she calls “the neon signs of the sentence world. They attract attention.” Her primary example is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” and she also cites Groucho Marx: “Money will not make you happy, and happy will not make you money.” Some sentences, notes the author, succeed through surprise, such as Lucille Ball’s “The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” A section on diction examines verbs, tone, word shifts (Gertrude Stein’s “There is no there there” is one example), and inventive coinage. Poetry appears most frequently in chapters on sound (onomatopoeia, repetition, and matching sounds) and visual presentation. A section on connection/comparison analyzes use of the first person and second person, synesthesia, and contrast—e.g., Neil Armstrong’s famous “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” A final section on “Extremes” focuses on unusually long “marathon sentences” and sentences that are marvels of concision, such as E.M. Forster’s “Only connect.” Each chapter ends with inventive writing exercises.

A practical, nonboring companion for writers aiming to hone their style.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00485-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

Did you like this book?