TOLSTOY'S DICTAPHONE

TECHNOLOGY AND THE MUSE

Stepping down a bit from his Arnoldian brand of technophobia, Birkerts (Gutenberg Elegies, 1994) gathers fellow writers' essays together to confront the wired future. The hot topic of the digitally driven decline of reading makes for a timely inauguration for Graywolf's new Forum series, with new essays from Paul West, Mark Slouka, Alice Fulton, Wendy Lesser, Albert Goldbarth, and Birkerts himself. Tolstoy discarded his dictaphone (a present from Thomas Edison) because it was ``too dreadfully exciting,'' but most of the writers here find technology simply dreadful, though a few are caught up in its excitement. Askold Melnyczuk, who supplies the Tolstoy anecdote, leads the reactionary pack with such shrill opinions as, ``Technology is class war by other means.'' Paul West is no less impassioned but far wittier as he divulges his chaotic typewriter- and paper-driven method of composition and skewers the fading of literary culture. In another, more reflective essay on the writing life, Jonathan Franzen defends the obsolete, whether technological, cultural, or creative. Birkerts's contribution is a stump speech on the intellectual value of reading on paper as opposed to computer screen. Not all these writers are averse to technology: Wendy Lesser describes her enthrallment with e-mail; Alice Fulton finds genuine benefit (and personal relevance) in researching her family's rare medical condition through the Internet; and Carole Maso riffs engagingly on hypertext's revolutionary potentials. Only Robert Pinsky, who has both translated Dante and worked on a CD-ROM ``electronic novel,'' demonstrates a knowledge of science's nuts and bolts, much less its perspective; his essay reflects on his engineer father-in-law's experience of the 20th century's technological quantum leaps. Though Birkerts packs this forum on the side of literary Ludditism, these varied responses to technophilia and the Information Age still have plenty of individual charm.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55597-248-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1996

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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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