A humorous take on chronic low back pain, light enough to be held in one hand by anyone lying in traction or otherwise immobilized on a bed of pain. Spengler, a German historian and sinologist and author of the novel Lenin's Brain (1993), has produced 24 gentle essays on the disconcerting, embarrassing, funny, and painful business of living with a bad back. He traces the origins of his own problem to his brief career as an army pallbearer and the arduous rehearsals required for ``Operation Adenauer''—carrying water-filled radiators in preparation for a heavy state coffin. While state funerals might not seem the stuff of humor, Spengler proves otherwise. Back-straining romantic interludes, psychotherapy sessions (``Book and back, that's interesting,'' the therapist notes. ``They even sound alike, and both have a spine.''), mountain climbing, lunch with a film producer, an encounter with a rigorous healer whose technique combined his own manipulations with his mother's prayers, a visit with a Chinese patriarch requiring performance of innumerable full-body kowtows—all are fodder for the brain of the erudite, literate, and well-traveled Spengler, who tells story after self-deprecating little story with style and wit. Especially vivid is his description of traveling to Texas to meet his American translator and being taken out for barbecue and introduced to hot sauce and some high-stepping line dancing, the latter of which had remarkable, if temporary, pain-killing effects. While it is by no means necessary to have suffered from back pain to enjoy Spengler's delightful essays, this would be the perfect gift for anyone who ever has.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-8050-5552-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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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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