Quite a slender volume—the actual narrative runs under 100 pages—but, as usual with Winchester, well-founded, witty and...

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THE ALICE BEHIND WONDERLAND

Winchester (Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, 2010, etc.) offers his take on the relationship between author/amateur photographer Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and Alice Pleasance Liddell—the “Alice” in his Wonderland and the subject of a certain unsettling photograph.

To fill in the background, the author retraces Dodgson’s early schooling from years at the Rugby School to his arrival at Oxford (that “forcing-house for flaneurs”) and three formative “epiphanies”: the beginning of his side career as Lewis Carroll, a developing friendship with the children of his college’s new dean, Henry George Liddell, and his discovery of the pleasures of the recently developed camera. Dodgson shot albums of photographs, but one image of Alice comes in for particular attention: a portrait of the 7-year-old dressed in rags, bare of shoulder and bearing “an expression of impish, secret knowledge, a winsome look that manages to be both confident and disturbing.” This and other provocative child portraits—along with pages tantalizingly razored from Dodgson’s diaries of the period—fueled modern accusations that have gone so pervasively viral that any random passerby will “know” more about Dodgson’s pedophilia than his literary works. Not so fast, cautions Winchester, making connections and offering counter-interpretations as he goes. The author judiciously considers the evidence, suggesting credible alternative views before finishing off with a quick pass through Alice’s later life and role as unwilling celebrity.

Quite a slender volume—the actual narrative runs under 100 pages—but, as usual with Winchester, well-founded, witty and perceptive.

Pub Date: March 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-19-539619-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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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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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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