An exuberant, entertaining collection.




Portraits from a devoted theatergoer.

From 1992 to 2012, Lahr (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, 2014, etc.) served as the New Yorker’s theater critic, publishing nearly 1 million words. This collection brings together 16 lively profiles of playwrights and directors, along with reviews of a sampling of their works and assorted other productions. Only two women—playwright Sarah Ruhl and director Susan Stroman—appear in a roster that includes such luminaries as Arthur Miller, David Mamet, David Rabe, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Ingmar Bergman, and Mike Nichols. Wallace Shawn, whom Lahr has known for decades, is a surprising—and delightful—addition. Asserting that criticism “is on the decline” because of media’s focus on lifestyles and celebrity, Lahr aims to provide context, illuminating the goals and artistry of his subjects. “Over time, if all goes well,” he writes, “I can ask the forbidden questions, and get answers.” Not all subjects are forthcoming, although the strongest of these profiles reflect Lahr’s dexterity as an interviewer. Miller talks about the genesis of Death of a Salesman in Americans’ “moral condemnation” of failure. The first performance, Miller told the author, was met with stunned silence until “someone thought to applaud, and then the house came apart.” Mamet reflects on “the helpless collusion of children with their parents’ sadism” in the “emotional hurricane” of his family’s life, which fueled his plays. In deftly crafted reviews, Lahr praises the premiere of Ruhl’s Stage Kiss as a “bright and buoyant thing” and Stroman for her dedication “to banishing gravity from the stage.” The profile of Shepard seems drawn entirely from publications by and about the playwright, resulting in a piece that lacks the intimacy of some others, such as the author’s portraits of the “arch manipulator” Bergman; Pinter, debilitated from esophageal cancer; and the “courtly, unassuming” Tony Kushner.

An exuberant, entertaining collection.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24640-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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