An opinionated guide to strong writing that’s full of examples and coherent instructions for producing readable prose.
In this writing guide, Tadros (The Book of Death, 2013, etc.) leads readers through the fundamentals of word choice, grammatical construction and rhetorical techniques, with insights drawn from his experience as a writing instructor. Examples of active and passive verbs, modifiers and conjunctions are drawn from a variety of sources, and although some will be familiar to readers of writing handbooks, there are welcome flashes of originality, such as illustrating the value of occasionally breaking grammatical rules, e.g., the use of Apple’s “Think Different” slogan. Touches of wry humor, like the introduction of “FANBOYS” as a mnemonic device to remember coordinating conjunctions—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so—bring another appealing element of originality to the already well-covered subject. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of writing techniques and, in addition to numerous examples, includes exercises for the reader. Addressing questions of usage and style, Tadros doesn’t hesitate to share his disapproval of some techniques: “Only self-important authors use turgid words such as utilise when a shorter, simpler word would better serve an audience.” (Yes, the book leans British.) While Tadros cautions readers against overblown prose, his own style often ventures into purple territory, as when he describes our “postmodern world infected with various strains of Staphylococcus relativism: a mind-dulling, host-disabling, culture-killing ideological parasite resistant to all forms of common sense and real-world experiences.” On the whole, however, the advice Tadros offers is balanced and reasonable, and it will bring both clarity and effectiveness to the writing of those who follow it.

An engaging and impassioned, if occasionally idiosyncratic, handbook for writers looking to achieve prose that is correct and elegant.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0987553065

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Nightlight Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2014

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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