A harmless enough entertainment, but vaporous and rather frivolous—an attempt, one suspects, to ride the crest of an...

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WHY KEROUAC MATTERS

THE LESSONS OF ON THE ROAD (THEY’RE NOT WHAT YOU THINK)

A pop-culture trifle that tries too hard to make its already accessible subject au courant among the 20-somethings.

New York Times style reporter Leland (Hip: The History, 2004) clearly has good intentions in this celebration of the inventor of middle-class white cool (or was that Sinatra?) and good instincts in pointing out the ironies hidden in Jack Kerouac’s invention. But it does not do to strive for hipness when discussing such weighty matters, and Leland’s prose often falls into a kind of chattiness that would have driven its subject to mad repudiations: “The big kahuna for any god-aspiring novelist is the question of death”; “On the Road is often blamed for America’s ongoing goatee problem, but the book is in fact clean-shaven. Kerouac disdained chin spinach, especially on white dudes.” Leland’s subject has been dead for nearly 40 years, the book that made him famous half a century old now, and the ironies mount: Kerouac was conservative, racist, closeted and a champion of Falwellian family values who “managed a lasting female relationship only with his mother, who supported his writing even as she disapproved of the lives he wrote about.” He was a wild celebrant of drugs and booze, hung out with Ginsberg and Burroughs, yet voted for Goldwater. So what are the life lessons to be drawn from the man and his book? Leland offers “Sal’s 7 Habits of Highly Beat People,” the Sal in question being of course Kerouac’s alterego: “Stay on schedule (Tip: don’t let jobs get in the way),” “Sell in, not out,” and so on; but too little of his book supports his thesis that On the Road is about how to live.

A harmless enough entertainment, but vaporous and rather frivolous—an attempt, one suspects, to ride the crest of an anniversary wave that has yet to take shape.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-06325-3

Page Count: 205

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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