“I set out to write this book without an overarching theory of the novel,” Schmidt admits. “I had no point to prove.” He...

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THE NOVEL

A BIOGRAPHY

Writers, reading, invigorate the novel. That is both the theme and plot of Schmidt’s (Poetry/Glasgow Univ.; The Stories of My Life, 2013, etc.) encyclopedic compendium tracing the novel over 700 years.

The author sees the genre as alive and evolving, capacious enough to include such writers as Mulk Raj Anand, an Indian émigré to England, whose work Schmidt does not much admire; the prolific Irish writer Ethel Mannin; and Guyanese writer Wilson Harris, read by Derek Walcott and Anthony Burgess but not many others. Schmidt considers his subjects more or less chronologically for half the book, gathering contemporaries who read one another: Hawthorne, Melville and Stowe, for example; and Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Charles Brockden Brown and other practitioners of what Schmidt calls “The Eerie,” as distinct from, in another chapter, the Brontë sisters and their Gothic romances. The second half of the book is impressionistic, as Schmidt creates “a dialogue” among writers and their works. A chapter on “Portraits and Caricatures of the Artist” includes Joyce, Beckett, Burgess and Barthelme; “Tone and Register” ranges from Virginia Woolf to Jeanette Winterson. Along the way, readers will learn that Woolf was dismissive of Maria Edgeworth, whom she considered too demure; that Gertrude Stein could not abide James Joyce; and that pretty much everyone was in thrall to Henry James—Truman Capote praised him as “the maestro of the semicolon.” As commodious as this book is, at more than 1,100 pages, the selections and groupings seem arbitrary, as does Schmidt’s selection of writers’ comments. Writers are famously voracious readers, and some were frequent reviewers; often, they mention novels in their letters, memoirs and diaries. Schmidt, apparently, has read them all.

“I set out to write this book without an overarching theory of the novel,” Schmidt admits. “I had no point to prove.” He does, however, prove his wide-ranging reading tastes, his ability to weave a colorful literary tapestry and his conviction that the novel is irrepressible.

Pub Date: May 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-72473-0

Page Count: 1180

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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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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