On the eve of the centennial of his death: an ardent life of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) that emphasizes the man rather than his writings. In fact, Bell (former literary editor of the Scotsman) says little about Stevenson's work—The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the one exception—beyond situating it in a career bounded by illness, genius, and the lure of the unknown. But Stevenson as eccentric, rake, invalid, and expatriate comes to light here in vivid coral colors. Fundamentally, Stevenson remains inexplicable: a self-indulgent, flighty man (``as tightly strung as an overtuned piano'') who proved his inner steel by writing through a barrage of illnesses—sciatica, tuberculosis, etc.—that would have crippled others. A religious fanatic as a child, he became an atheist and socialist. A terrible student, he turned into a superb analyst of the human psyche. In Bell's agile hands, Stevenson's life seems a study in how not to do it: He never had a steady home; he married a neurotic woman who exacerbated his own problems; ran away from his literary genius (wasting his time on lesser projects and obsessive rewriting); and perfected his style only during his final years on Western Samoa, writing books he never had time to finish. Yet a few of Stevenson's tales—Jekyll and Hyde, Treasure Island, Kidnapped—will endure, along with the still-accreting legend of the dissolute vagabond genius (which Bell somewhat punctures, maintaining that ``R.L.S. was debauched on a part-time basis only''). A lively biography that Stevenson himself would have enjoyed.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2807-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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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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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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