Fifty-odd essays on American letters and the American scene, by Harvard critic Birkerts (The Electric Life, 1988; An Artificial Wilderness, 1987), most of which consist of reviews already published in The Nation, The Atlantic, The New Republic, etc. Birkerts is an active and intelligent writer who spent most of the past decade observing the intellectual trends of the day: postmodernism, deconstruction, ``cultural literacy,'' video-mania, minimalism, etc. There was a lot to talk about and it kept him busy at the task: not many contemporary writers, and few contemporary movements, escape his notice here. The construction of a ``postmodern'' sensibility seems to be Birkerts's most general concern: In several essays, he keeps coming back to the question of how technological advances and economic developments of recent decades have altered our perception of our selves and of the world. Unfortunately, he has little to say on the subject that has not long since become commonplace—that does not, ultimately, boil down to an assertion that everything-has-changed-and-we-have-to-figure- out-how-to-deal-with-it. The decline of literacy, the weakening of cultural bonds, and the possible collapse of reading as a mass activity in modern society have been remarked and discussed many times before; Birkerts needs—and, generally, fails—to provide some slant of his own to make these phenomena interesting. Similarly, in his treatment of particular authors, Birkerts rarely goes beyond the depth of flap-copy synopsis (as in his description of Henry Miller as ``Tough guy, bohemian, sexual threat, literary hero''). The best parts of the book are those that seem not to have been written as reviews (``Objections Noted: Word Processing,'' for example, or ``Teaching in a Video Age''), in which Birkerts is able to give his opinions freer play—but these are heavily outnumbered by the reprints. Recycled journalism: of interest for the subjects only, not for the author.

Pub Date: June 17, 1992

ISBN: 0-688-10612-9

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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