THE HAPPINESS OF GETTING IT DOWN RIGHT

LETTERS OF FRANK O'CONNOR AND WILLIAM MAXWELL, 1945-1966

Charming correspondence between the Irish short-story writer and his editor at the New Yorker. Over the course of their working relationship, O'Connor (190366) and Maxwell (born 1908) became close friends, and the chronologically arranged text narrates the deepening of their relationship. ``Mr. O'Connor'' and ``Mr. Maxwell'' give way by 1955 to ``Frank'' and ``Bill,'' and in 1956 Maxwell makes the transition to ``Michael,'' the name by which intimates addressed the writer, whose real name was Michael O'Donovan. (Most of the very few letters from the 1940s and early 1950s included here were exchanged with Gus Lobrano, who preceded Maxwell as O'Connor's New Yorker editor). Textual queries reveal the New Yorker's famously exacting editing process; indeed, it's slightly chilling, when O'Connor submits two stories in 1965 after a long dry spell, to read in Maxwell's rejection the blunt comment that ``the characters do not have the breath of life in them.'' Since editor Steinman (English/Nassau Community College) does not provide plot synopses, the extremely specific editorial comments will primarily engage those who are very familiar with O'Connor's work. Much more accessible are the two men's warm accounts of family life. ``Saturday I built a tree house for the children, and was as pleased as if I had written something,'' Maxwell writes in 1965; O'Connor bemoans in 1958 the fact that babies are so common in Dublin that his ``glorious'' infant daughter ``can be paraded through all the principal streets without anyone saying as much as `What a pretty child!' '' Also appealing are the correspondents' unabashed expressions of affection: ``I want Bill Maxwell,'' O'Connor reports ``wailing'' to his wife in one letter, while Maxwell signs off in another as ``Your friend who loves you.'' Most readers will pick up this volume for its literary interest, but the human content is what makes it memorable.

Pub Date: May 17, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44659-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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