The multiplicity of the contemporary world breeds pedants and gurus: we need the former to show us the weaving, the latter so we may behold the design. Occasionally these differing, functions come in one outsize personality, like the celebrated Marshall McLuhan. We never see the element we are immersed in, says McLuhan—at least, we don't until we take some perspective on it, an aerial view, perhaps, which brings things in close-up: (the "mosaic" of the daily newspaper, for instance) or which expands into panoramic largesse (the "landscape" of the mind, "model" of the universe, and so forth). Not exactly novel terms or ideas, of course, but they are peculiar to McLuhan, and it's nice to see, as this retrospective (1943-1962) selection of literary criticism demonstrates, that he's been using them for quite a while. Here he is on Ulysses, which because it all takes place on one day he likens to a newspaper: "The frankly newspaperish aspect of this epic derives from the speculations of Mallarme who regarded the press as a new kind of popular poetry. . . . History is abolished not by being disowned but by becoming present." This sounds iconoclastic (and a little raffish: Mallarme's hierarchy of values, Joyce's myth-making—these do not appear to "fit" McLuhan's insight); but, never fear, McLuhan (pedant as well as guru) is sanely anchored to tradition. Thus in his interesting essays on Keats (the "music" of the language) and Tennyson (the "picturesque" idiom) he celebrates the Romantic movement as a continuing experience, and even designates Coleridge as the prototype of Cubist discontinuity. Like the Kennedys, McLuhan is a New Frontiersman with conservative tastes; like them, he has had his moment of glory. His prose is most dazzling when most inexplicable; he feeds our fancies.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1969

ISBN: 1111521646

Page Count: -

Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1969

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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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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



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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