Anyone who quotes Bialystock instead of Derrida is our kind of guy. Who says fun has to be brainless?

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IN A CARDBOARD BELT!

ESSAYS PERSONAL, LITERARY, AND SAVAGE

Having recently become a deliberative septuagenarian, prolific commentator Epstein (Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide, 2006, etc.) gathers another profusion of personal essays.

Most of this varied fare first appeared under the byline Aristides in the American Scholar, the literary quarterly he edited from 1975 to 1997. Epstein practices the craft of the essay quite proficiently in multi-layered pieces that often prompt reflections beyond the subject matter directly at hand. True, his literary musings on favorite authors sometimes draw so heavily on said authors’ biographies that they sound a bit like prefaces to the Collected Works. But that’s fine by us, as they say in his hometown (Chicago), when he shares his thoughts about favorites like Auden, Valéry, Beerbohm, Karl Shapiro and, of course, philosopher Max Bialystock, the famous producer who supplies the book’s title. Proust, Epstein avers, produced a masterwork so good “it shouldn’t even be read for the first time.” Capote, as a “savvy man” and Keats, as a medical man, are considered anew. Nice as the appreciations may be, the best fun here is in the ad hominem pastings administered to panjandrum know-it-alls like Edmund Wilson, Mortimer Adler and (more contemporaneously) big old Harold Bloom. Epstein also considers such issues as book disposal, poets laureate, pedagogy, the wisdom of his father, movies and what’s wrong with the world—“too many people in it just like me,” he concludes. As is proper for a talented teacher and essayist, he is wonderfully opinionated. He hates “public intellectuals” and turgid writing. He’s a guileless snob, an Anglophile and a bit of a Francophile too, with a trace of Yiddishkeit.

Anyone who quotes Bialystock instead of Derrida is our kind of guy. Who says fun has to be brainless?

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-618-72193-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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