Ruffin (English/Sam Houston State Univ.; New and Selected Poems, 2010, etc.) offers a collection of personal essays that read like script ideas rejected by the Farrelly brothers.

Though the author boasts a fairly impressive Southern Lit CV—founding director of Texas Review Press, founding editor of the Texas Review and 2009 Texas State Poet Laureate—most of these essays are just offensive and miss the mark. They find great humor in excessive drinking—Ruffin devotes an entire piece to his history with alcohol and lubricates others—and many of the essays celebrate a sort of arrested adolescence, especially with women. The author ogles teenaged waitresses and watches a mosquito probing a thigh of “a beautiful young woman” sitting next to him at a reading—guess what the probing reminds him of? Ruffin dismisses women who don’t turn him on, including one waitress to whose apparently unsavory looks he devotes an entire paragraph. The author also displays an infantile pleasure in the body’s waste products; One essay is entirely about our multiple uses of the word shit; another records his mother’s (!) eccentric practices with her used Kotex. Throughout, the author oddly reveals a disdain for the Southern and Southwestern people whom he putatively celebrates. One mean-spirited essay ridicules the doggerel written by some law-enforcement officers at a convention—a bit like a martial-arts expert’s flattening some eager movie fan in line to see The Karate Kid. Ultimately, this collection reveals the author’s inability to know what’s important and what isn’t. An interminable essay about a flight in a cargo plane features pages of ain’t-goin’-nowhere-in-particular dialogue and crude comments about women’s body parts. Essays for the drunk and disorderly. Ruffin should stick to poetry and fiction—see The Man Who Would Be God (1993) or Jesus in the Mist (2007).


Pub Date: April 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-57003-986-7

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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