"Intelligence," guest editor Sontag notes in her introduction, "is a literary virtue, not just an energy or aptitude given literary clothing." And she goes on to insist that "it is hard to imagine an important essay that is not, first of all, a display of intelligence. And sheer intelligence of the highest order can in and of itself make a great essay." The choices here leave that assertion open to doubt, though. If smarts were all, then John Guillory's essay on the fallacy of canon formation and Philip Fisher's essay about Shakespeare's radical reinterpretation of the contingency of the passions in Hamlet would be classics. They're not, each written badly in its own way and each without the edge of argumentative flexibility that all great essays, even screeds and fragmenta, manage to lead with. Other things here, in contrast, are all voice, no content—essays by William Gass, Stanley Elkin, Patricia Storace, Elizabeth Hardwick, Leonard Michaels, Anne Carson—esoterica by virtue of their contrarian textures rather than their indwelling mental processes. The exceptions, then, stand out as all the more sterling. Best of all, in its exoteric generosity and clarity, is Joan Didion's devastating essay about New York and its "sentimental narratives"—politically muzzy but coming close to the last word about the city's self-destructive wane. Adam Gopnik's "Audubon's Passions" is a revelation, an invitation to see what we thought we'd seen and known. Sontag is a masterful enough essayist herself to know the real thing—which is why she reprints not one but two John Updike pieces, one on domestic objects in childhood, one on Mickey Mouse: Essays that in their adventurousness both of voice and interim conclusion fit the essentially plastic paradoxicalness of the essay form better than anything else here.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 1992

ISBN: 0-395-59935-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1992

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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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