Wading through a sticky swamp of jargon, readers will here and there find a flower of insight.

READ REVIEW

PROUST AND THE SQUID

THE STORY AND SCIENCE OF THE READING BRAIN

Wolf (Child Development/Tufts Univ.) rehearses the history of reading, reviews the latest research in what our brains are doing while we read and summarizes what’s known about the complexities of reading, including causes of and remedies for dyslexia.

Regrettably, she conveys this useful information in off-putting prose assembled from an ill-assorted variety of components. The most oppressive, costive academic jargon rubs elbows with expressions of gee-whiz, ain’t-this-amazin’ enthusiasm. Exclamation points pop up like dandelions on virtually every page, and the author affixes gushy adjectives to the names of many of the authorities she cites, such as “the brilliant neurologist Samuel T. Orton.” (All Wolf’s sources are “brilliant” or “great” or “gifted.”) Also, it’s embarrassing when the author of a work with “Proust” in the title refers to the narrator’s childhood memories being triggered by the smell of a madeleine in the famous scene from Swann’s Way; it was the taste. Despite such stylistic excesses and factual lapses, the author does a creditable job of explaining reading’s complexities. Reading is such a relatively recent human activity that the brain has not evolved to accommodate it, she reminds us; as a result, all children must learn “from scratch” this incredibly complex perceptual and intellectual process. Wolf also effectively summarizes the most relevant brain research. She sensitively discusses dyslexia, including some cases in her own family, and convincingly argues that it is often a number of problems that create the disability. She worries about the increasing number of language-impoverished children arriving in the public schools; she wonders about the effects on our culture and our democracy of generations who have spent far more time viewing Internet images than reading pages of text.

Wading through a sticky swamp of jargon, readers will here and there find a flower of insight.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-018639-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

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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