RUINED BY READING

A LIFE IN BOOKS

We generally think of potboilers as knocked-off, hack novels meant to bring in some cash and attention (``keep the pot boiling'') until the author can come up with another ``real'' book. How unfortunate, then, to have the word ``potboiler'' occur to one while reading Scwartz's memoir of her life as a reader. Schwartz (The Fatigue Artist, 1995, etc.) is known as a novelist whose strong, fiercely felt prose—whose good prose- -often fails to cohere in a fully realized novelistic framework. This memoir, alas, is no different. Reading is a great subject. Not nearly enough books or essays (outside academia, anyway) have been devoted to it, and certainly very few have achieved the literary immortality of, say, Walter Benjamin's essay ``Unpacking My Library.'' Because of this, there is a temptation here to be uncritical and lap up the not-insignificant charms of Ruined by Reading—as Schwartz (in a narrative ranging from childhood to success as an author) laps up Heidi, A Little Princess, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field, etc. The problem is that very little of enduring satisfaction results. Schwartz's reminiscences are centered largely on her child and teenage self—and childhood can be a breeding ground for adult sentimentality and excess. The book will have resonances for many readers—but mainly short- lived ones. Why? Haste (or a sense of it, anyway). Self- indulgence. The good stuff is terrific—as when the college-age Schwartz recommends Kafka to her parents, then receives a phone call from her father reporting a distinct difference in their readings and demanding to know what The Trial was really about. ``My heart leaped,'' she writes. ``This was exactly what I wanted. We should theorize this way every waking hour.'' Best for an unsophisticated audience of book-lovers: The sophisticates may feel that they could have done it better.

Pub Date: May 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-8070-7082-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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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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