An eclectic collection that reasserts the author’s reputation as one of America’s most perceptive, candid and humane critics.

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CRITICAL MASS

FOUR DECADES OF ESSAYS, REVIEWS, HAND GRENADES, AND HURRAHS

A veteran culture critic for Vanity Fair and other publications weighs in and waxes wise on TV, comedians, music, movies, books and writers.

Wolcott, who has written a memoir (Lucking Out, 2011, etc.), a novel and a collection of political commentaries, is an unusually erudite critic who writes with considerable humor, compassion and empathy—though his toolkit includes a deadly straight razor, as well. After a brief introduction, he launches into the collection, which is almost entirely chronological within each section (there are a few exceptions). He begins with that classic TV flare-up between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal in 1968, an event which he revisits more than 400 pages later in a lacerating review of Fred Kaplan’s biography of Vidal. One of Wolcott’s great strengths is his visual sense and his metaphorical power; something impressive appears on nearly every page. Johnny Carson was “the comedic virtuoso of the superego”; Parker Posy, “scarily thin…plunges blade-like into every scene”; Sam Peckinpah “seemed to have a hand grenade for a heart”; Joyce Carol Oates’ A Bloodsmoor Romance is “a speck of inspiration that somehow metamorphosed into a word-goop with a ravenous case of the eaties”; Truman Capote was “a debauched angel.” Hungry readers will gobble these phrases like Halloween candy. Throughout the collection, Wolcott reveals his admiration for the work of Norman Mailer; his ambivalence about Vidal; his disdain for Oates and Richard Ford; and his respect for Philip Larkin and James Garner. He deals frankly with the private lives of writers—the laundry of Mailer and Styron dangles in the open air—and there is a series of essays about the Amises, father and son, which reveals all their darks, lights and grays.

An eclectic collection that reasserts the author’s reputation as one of America’s most perceptive, candid and humane critics.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-52779-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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