A useful collection of bracing thoughts and sinuous sentences.

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TO SHOW AND TO TELL

THE CRAFT OF LITERARY NONFICTION

One of the Earls of Essay returns with a collection that illustrates both his knowledge of the genre and his considerable skill in practicing it.

Some of these pieces have appeared earlier, and they range in nature from struggles to define the genre, to pedagogical strategies he’s tried (and recommends), to reviews of the essays of other writers—living (Ben Yagoda, whose chin is the target for some Lopate left hooks) and not (Lamb, Hazlitt, James Baldwin). Lopate (Graduate Nonfiction/Columbia Univ.; At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, 2010, etc.) is both at ease and ill at ease with the definitions of “creative nonfiction,” “memoir” and “lyric essay,” and he continually revisits his discomfort. He confesses that he’s neither a philosopher nor a professional rhetorician, so he sometimes has difficulty articulating precisely what he means. Most readers will disagree. Lopate also repeatedly uses moments from his own classroom to illuminate his points, mentioning struggles that students have finding a “voice,” defining the “I” they will use, figuring out how to organize and how to end a personal essay. He urges all to ignite the curiosity and follow its flames. In the piece “The Essay: Exploration or Argument?” he somewhat softens his earlier view that the personal essay contains no argument. We learn that he’s kept a journal since age 17 and that he recognizes, though grates, at the lower status nonfiction inhabits in academe. He takes a little poke at Facebook (though he fears no real evil from it) and expresses great admiration for Emerson and Baldwin, “the most important American essayist since the end of World War II.”

A useful collection of bracing thoughts and sinuous sentences.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9632-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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