Fans of historical fiction will have fun with Carnes’s study, and would-be novelists might benefit from having a look at it,...




A sometimes amusing if generally inconsequential set of essays on fiction-writers’ use (and occasional misuse) of history.

Following the model he established with Past Imperfect (1995), Carnes (History/Barnard Coll.) elicits from his scholarly peers comments on representative historical fictions that have been published, mainly, in the last 40 years. In response to their comments come sometimes defensive, sometimes befuddled, and sometimes gracious and grateful remarks by the novelists in question. Historian Elliott West, for instance, notes historical inaccuracies in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, a novel that offers “a virtually full roster of the Western’s most familiar characters” and is thus as mythical as any other horse opera. Blinking at the command to draw, McMurtry answers that “A long novel often involves such sloppiness.” By contrast, when his attention is drawn to inaccuracies in Burr, the famously prickly Gore Vidal goes snide, while William Styron bobs and weaves around Eugene Genovese’s furious jabs at The Confessions of Nat Turner. Annie Dillard, after noted historian Richard White demonstrates her novel The Living to be a mass of misunderstandings and useless inventions, doesn’t bother to respond at all. Neither does Barbara Kingsolver, though her 1998 The Poisonwood Bible stands up pretty well under Dianne Kunz’s fact-testing examination. For the most part, the historians here are gentle—often, in fact, too gentle—with their storytelling subjects, while the novelists respond for the most part with some variant of “Well, I wasn’t writing a dissertation.”

Fans of historical fiction will have fun with Carnes’s study, and would-be novelists might benefit from having a look at it, too—and then double-checking their facts. After all, as historian John Lukacs observes here, “Every novel is a historical novel.”

Pub Date: March 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-85765-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


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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