Lively enough, in contradistinction to its subject, this workmanlike volume of literary history traces the underexamined phenomenon of boredom. Boredom, Spacks (Gossip, 1985; English/Univ. of Virginia) informs us, is a social construction of recent vintage. The figure of ``the bore'' first appeared in the mid-18th century; the idea of boredom emerged, like the novel, in the wake of early modernity's development of the concept of leisure. Boredom and popular writing have intimate links: Writers seek above all to be interesting (i.e., not boring), and readers follow their interests in reading, evading boredom. Not coincidentally, boredom has long fascinated popular writers as a subject. Spacks builds on these observations in developing her history of boredom in English literature. Reconsidering narration as a strategy for reclaiming life from boredom, she discusses how a wide variety of 18th-century fiction and correspondence treats that state of mind. Her investigation reveals that boredom often masks more pointed discomforts, even serving as a subtle form of aggression against resented environments. A look at how Jane Austen disciplines her title character in Emma provides a case study in what Spacks calls ``the normalization of boredom.'' As sociology has charted the spread of boredom through society, writers have continued to explore the implications of its pervasiveness and to mount resistances to it. In her final chapters, Spacks considers boredom in the context of works by such authors as Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Donald Barthelme, and Anita Brookner. However, the interest/boredom opposition, always fairly crude, seems especially inadequate for describing modern fiction, with its self-consciously alienating effects. Her discussion also lacks a real reckoning with the entertainment marketplace's appeals to (and cultivation of) boredom in the consumers of its stimulations. Nevertheless, Spacks opens up promising ground for further investigations. Perhaps a new academic subdiscipline might be in order: Anyone for Boredom Studies?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-226-76853-8

Page Count: 289

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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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