Would-be writers will find this both useful and inspiring, while general readers can simply enjoy Livesey’s keen insights...

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THE HIDDEN MACHINERY

ESSAYS ON WRITING

From the noted creative writing teacher and novelist, a smart, unpretentious guide to “writing the life, shaping the novel.”

The eponymous hidden machinery is twofold: the nuts and bolts of craft, which give a novel form and function, and “the secret psychic life of the author,” which shapes its emotional undercurrents. Livesey (Fiction/Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Mercury, 2016, etc.) concentrates initially on technique, beginning with the lessons she learned from Irish novelist Brian Moore when she was an aspiring writer waitressing in Toronto: “the actual words…make all the difference” and “every sentence matter[s].” Employing a winningly confidential first-person voice, Livesey uses her own struggles and examples ranging from Jane Austen to Jane Smiley to elucidate such basics as creating character and writing dialogue as well as more intangible elements like developing a clear aesthetic. A fascinating chapter on “How to Tell a True Story” categorizes literature on a continuum ranging from “fiction,” in which every element is carefully designed to create a coherent overall impact, and “antifiction,” which emulates the messy confusion of real life and seeks to make readers feel “that the events described really had occurred.” It’s characteristic of Livesey’s inclusive spirit that she does not privilege one over the other but explores each as a strategy that suits different kinds of materials and goals. “We are always seeking authority for our work,” she writes. “The question is what the source will be.” Admirers of the author’s fiction will enjoy glimpses of the autobiographical elements underpinning it: a mother who died young (Eva Moves the Furniture), a detested stepmother (the story “Learning by Heart”), a miserable four years in boarding school (The Flight of Gemma Hardy), and a difficult relationship with her father, as yet not resolved into art but the subject of the moving pages that close the book’s final chapter on “navigating the shoals of research.”

Would-be writers will find this both useful and inspiring, while general readers can simply enjoy Livesey’s keen insights and engaging prose.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-68-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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