CREATE, NARRATE, PUNCTUATE

HOW TO FASHION EXQUISITELY STYLED SENTENCES

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 wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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