A superb book about doing his job by a master of his craft.

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DRAFT NO. 4

ON THE WRITING PROCESS

The renowned writer offers advice on information-gathering and nonfiction composition.

The book consists of eight instructive and charming essays about creating narratives, all of them originally composed for the New Yorker, where McPhee (Silk Parachute, 2010, etc.) has been a contributor since the mid-1960s. Reading them consecutively in one volume constitutes a master class in writing, as the author clearly demonstrates why he has taught so successfully part-time for decades at Princeton University. In one of the essays, McPhee focuses on the personalities and skills of editors and publishers for whom he has worked, and his descriptions of those men and women are insightful and delightful. The main personality throughout the collection, though, is McPhee himself. He is frequently self-deprecating, occasionally openly proud of his accomplishments, and never boring. In his magazine articles and the books resulting from them, McPhee rarely injects himself except superficially. Within these essays, he offers a departure by revealing quite a bit about his journalism, his teaching life, and daughters, two of whom write professionally. Throughout the collection, there emerge passages of sly, subtle humor, a quality often absent in McPhee’s lengthy magazine pieces. Since some subjects are so weighty—especially those dealing with geology—the writing can seem dry. There is no dry prose here, however. Almost every sentence sparkles, with wordplay evident throughout. Another bonus is the detailed explanation of how McPhee decided to tackle certain topics and then how he chose to structure the resulting pieces. Readers already familiar with the author’s masterpieces—e.g., Levels of the Game, Encounters with the Archdruid, Looking for a Ship, Uncommon Carriers, Oranges, and Coming into the Country—will feel especially fulfilled by McPhee’s discussions of the specifics from his many books.

A superb book about doing his job by a master of his craft.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-14274-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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