Friskier diction would have helped at times, but the book is generally informed, enlightening and often delightfully...




A scholar in Renaissance literature debuts with a chronicle of cursing, from the Romans to R-rated movies.

In an account that’s a bit textually schizophrenic—the tone and diction range from barroom bawdy to scholarly costiveness—Mohr moves through the centuries in her racy account of how we swear and why. She identifies two major domains of dirty: the Holy and the Shit (the sacred and the secular, the spirit and the body) and shows how each has at times been in the ascendancy. To the Romans and Victorians (the latter thought the body was an embarrassment), words about body parts and functions were highly offensive. Mohr notes that the Victorian Age was also the age of euphemism. But earlier, in the Middle Ages, the more offensive oaths (“the equivalent of modern obscenity”) were religious in nature. Swearing by God’s body parts—“by God’s nails”—alarmed authorities. During the Renaissance, obscenity spread, but playwrights (she uses Shakespeare as an example) employed wordplay, jokes and innuendo. Mohr notes that the Bard of Avon “never employs a primary obscenity.” Moving on, she notes that the world wars greatly affected the vernacular, and soon, literature and the other arts were finding ways to accommodate the new, crustier diction. (She reminds us of the “fug” Mailer had to use in The Naked and the Dead.) Mohr then summarizes the obscenity cases of Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover and discusses George Carlin, Tourette’s and the scholarly interest in swearing. She confesses that she found it more difficult to write about racial and ethnic slurs than she did about more conventional cursing. Throughout, she lists many naughty words that readers will greatly enjoy learning more about.

Friskier diction would have helped at times, but the book is generally informed, enlightening and often delightfully surprising.

Pub Date: May 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-19-974267-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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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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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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