Davidson prefers the intellectual challenge of analyzing “a problem or a situation” such as the problem she astutely...

READING STYLE

A LIFE IN SENTENCES

Davidson (English and Comparative Literature/Columbia Univ.; The Magic Circle, 2013, etc.) encourages readers to hone their critical skills and develop “a deeper comprehension of how to know which objects reward such scrutiny.”

Taking issue with the idea that literature teaches about life, the author maintains that the “main reward of reading a novel” is not “becoming a slightly better person.” Instead, Davidson reads for the pleasure of style: the sparkle of a well-chosen word, the topography of a well-crafted sentence and the “acoustical elegance of aphorism.” She considers distinct stylistic elements, exemplified by extensive passages from the many works that Davidson admires, some predictably canonical: Jane Austen’s Emma, whose prose “is remarkable in being at the same time supremely stylized, crafted, controlled and also exceptionally productive of identification and empathy”; Moby-Dick (“electrifyingly strange, mesmerizing, lovely”; Henry James’ The Golden Bowl, whose sentences “display a virtually unprecedented subtlety and complexity.” Some contemporary writers also merit praise, such as Jonathan Lethem, whose The Fortress of Solitude Davidson found “immensely satisfying in the exact placement of the words”; Yiyun Li, for her short stories but not her first novel; Alan Hollinghurst, for The Line of Beauty; crime writer Harry Stephen Keeler, whose “use of simile and comparison is strikingly imaginative”; and Lydia Davis for the “chewy” quality of her compressed stories. Others fail to meet Davidson’s exacting standards: She cites Alice Munro, Alice McDermott and William Trevor as writers whose emotional landscapes are “woefully narrow” and exemplary of “the sort of self-absorption” pervasive in North American literary short stories. The author of four novels, Davidson confesses her own frustration with what she sees as the artificiality of made-up characters and plots.

Davidson prefers the intellectual challenge of analyzing “a problem or a situation” such as the problem she astutely considers here: how writers create the splendid prose that readers cherish.

Pub Date: June 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-231-16858-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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