An absorbing resurrection of English worldviews widely held during the mid-1800s: strangely entertaining and surprisingly...

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THE CLUMSIEST PEOPLE IN EUROPE

OR, MRS. MORTIMER’S BAD-TEMPERED GUIDE TO THE VICTORIAN WORLD

Equal-opportunity bigot Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer (1802–78) takes a trip around the world, in a collection of excerpts from guides originally written for Victorian children.

One day while browsing in a bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard, freelance magazine writer/editor Pruzan stumbled across Mortimer’s work and, in a moment of inspired literary archeology, took it home to chuckle over its phrasings and outlook with friends and family. From those serendipitous beginnings, he became increasingly fascinated with the foul-tempered Mortimer. She turned out to be a British bestselling children’s author, and although in her entire life she never traveled beyond Paris, Brussels and Edinburgh, she presented herself as an authority on all the cultures of the world. Here, Pruzan provides highlights from three of her works: The Countries of Europe Described; Far Off: Asia and Australia Described, and Far Off, Part II: Africa and America Described, all published between 1849 and 1854. Explanatory text at the beginning of each section describes relevant contemporary political and social events, a very useful bit if context, particularly for such countries as Tartary, Circassia and Prussia. No land escapes Mortimer’s acid pen, though she has a few kind words for Denmark—whose chief asset is its resemblance to England. Of the whole of Africa, she declares, “There are more ignorant people there than anywhere else.” In Asia, she notes that “the Chinese are very selfish and unfeeling.” After all this bile, it’s intriguing to arrive at her thoughts on the American South, particularly slavery. Mortimer observes that although some people say that slaves are happy to labor as they do, “the slaves show plainly that they do not think themselves happy, by often running away.”

An absorbing resurrection of English worldviews widely held during the mid-1800s: strangely entertaining and surprisingly educational.

Pub Date: June 6, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-504-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

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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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