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GOOD PROSE

THE ART OF NONFICTION

Other writing guides have more nuts-and-bolts advice, but few combine the verve and plainspokenness of this book, which...

Legendary literary journalist Kidder (Strength in What Remains, 2009, etc.) and his longtime editor trade war stories and advice for the ambitious nonfiction writer.

“Let’s face it, this fellow can’t write,” an Atlantic editor told Todd about Kidder, who had been constantly revising his first feature in 1973. The authors tell this story upfront as an inspirational anecdote for young writers: Great writing is less often the product of flashes of genius than it is dogged persistence as a researcher and rewriter. The book is largely an entertaining handbook on matters of reporting (do lots of it, much more than you think you need) and style (simpler is better), but Kidder and Todd are not prescriptive the way Strunk & White and its inheritors are, and they allow greater leeway for writers. Throughout, they implore writers to shrug off the shackles of “journalese” and blog-y posturing and strive for creative, essayistic approaches. They’re also forgiving, to a degree, of the imperfect memories that propel many memoirs. Outright fabrications (see James Frey) are out of line for them, but they appreciate that no memoirs “that strive to dramatize moments in the past can be wholly faithful to knowable fact.” After the practical matters are settled, the two indulge in “Being Edited and Editor,” a lengthy chapter in which they recall their contentious relationship tussling over paragraphs. Even here, though, the memories are studded with practical tips and memorable aphorisms—“Something is always wrong with a draft,” in particular, should hang over every writer’s desk. The authors also offer fine recommendations for further reading, from Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time (1967) to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012).

Other writing guides have more nuts-and-bolts advice, but few combine the verve and plainspokenness of this book, which exemplifies its title.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6975-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Awards & Accolades

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  • National Book Award Winner


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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