A forgettable hodgepodge of childhood memoir, travel diary, and essays on poetry. Like ancient Gaul, this book is divided into three parts—none of them quite related to others. Award-winning Irish poet and novelist McCarthy opens with childhood memories of his blind grandmother. After devoting a few pages to his upbringing in Waterford, Ireland, he jumps ahead to his college days in Cork, where he studied poetry. We—re introduced to several Cork poets, each of them obscure to most American (and Irish) readers. McCarthy next offers his opinions on Irish immigration and contemporary Irish culture. There’s nothing particularly interesting about McCarthy’s views: “Every idea I have about my country isn—t conceived for a seminar—it is, rather, a product of one way of life here, a justification for living.” Whether he’s discussing personal or public issues, McCarthy never delves very far below the surface. His best moments come when he’s describing his job as a librarian in Cork: “Bad days in a public library can be terrible: constant queues, screaming children, distraught pensioners risking broken bones to beat each other to the latest Maeve Binchy, and perhaps, the boss in a foul humour.” The book’s second part is a five-month diary of his time spent teaching Irish literature at a small Minnesota college. McCarthy’s insights about America are frustratingly few and mundane. American students are earnest, Minnesota winters are harsh, teaching is exhausting, and he misses home. The final part of the book is a collection of six essays on various Irish poets (among them Theo Dorgan, Sean Dunne, Greg Delanty). Many of the cited poets write in Gaelic, yet McCarthy quotes their poems without English translation. Lacking organization, focus, and depth, this book is a bland mixture of incompatible ingredients tossed haphazardly into a pot.

Pub Date: March 26, 1999

ISBN: 1-874597-66-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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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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