In a luminous collection of essays, prolific children's author, poet, and novelist Willard (Sister Water, 1993) speaks of the magic and craft of writing. Many of these 13 pieces describe the power of poems in their ancient role as incantations that call us to see the objects and beings of the world anew—and of the power of stories as parables. The truth nestles hidden inside a good story, contends Willard, who quotes Eudora Welty: ``Fiction is a lie...Never in its inside thoughts, always in its outside dress.'' One of the most vivid lessons Willard ever got on the importance of giving truth some ``outside dress'' came from a University of Michigan student who briefly rented a room in her parents' rambling house. Willard relates that, according to young Danny Weinstein, Truth used to go around stark-naked, scandalizing everybody until he happened to meet Parable, who dressed him up: ``Truth put on a white linen suit, a pink shirt, and a black tie, and what do you know? People invited him here, they invited him there, they shook his hand when they met him in the street. Since that time Truth and Parable are great friends.'' Inspired by Weinstein's story, Willard weaves a series of delightful parables that dramatize basic writing principles like ``show, don't tell.'' The best stories, says the author, pull the reader into a special, ceremonial time and space in which past and present coexist. A writer must learn to wait actively for such tales, for they always seem to come through chance, as though delivered by angels. These are the stories that preserve the inner truth of beloved ancestors and places, that resonate—even if not explicitly—with the timeless human incantation, ``Once upon a time.'' Willard strings together insight after insight, creating a celebration of, as well as a guide to, the writing life.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 1993

ISBN: 0-15-693130-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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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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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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