Stimulating, provocative and unfailingly intelligent—in short, vintage Smiley.



Bracing literary criticism from a practitioner’s point of view.

Bogged down in the midst of writing a novel she didn’t much like, fearing at age 52 that she was running out of inspiration, Smiley (Horse Heaven, 2000, etc.) decided in 2001 to read 100 novels—not a “Hundred Greatest,” she is quick to stipulate, “only a list of individual novels that would illuminate the whole concept of the novel.” The resulting book offers 12 chapters on various aspects of the form (“The Origins of the Novel,” “The Novel and History,” etc.) and a 13th with 101 short essays on individual titles (Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me got added after Smiley read it on a post-project vacation). Naturally, the author’s selections and judgments reflect her sensibility and artistic convictions. She’s capable of appreciating a modernist classic like Ulysses, but she writes far more enthusiastically about other works, from The Princess of Cleves to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Whether praising or damning—The Great Gatsby is among the books that get severe though never nasty appraisals—Smiley approaches literature in a refreshingly direct, unpretentious way. She considers Lady Murasaki and Boccaccio her peers just as much as John Updike and Ian McEwan; you never forget in her down-to-earth assessments that novels are written by and about human beings. She likes Daniel Defoe for “his habit of giving advice and yet forgiving his characters’ trespasses”; she dislikes Henry James’s “prissy, domineering manner.” There are funny, apt phrases on every page, and Smiley’s analysis of the novel’s evolution over a millennium is cogent and convincing. Her “case history” of Good Faith (2003), the manuscript whose bumpy progress prompted her 100-novel intermission, offers a fascinating look at the working writer’s life. What ties together the casually organized text is Smiley’s profound love for her chosen genre, an art form she believes is accessible to everyone because “the novel is based on the most primal human materials, emotion and language.”

Stimulating, provocative and unfailingly intelligent—in short, vintage Smiley.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4059-0

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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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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