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

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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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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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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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