THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 1994

Volume nine strains a bit to achieve its predecessors' diversity by stretching the definition of ``essay.'' Take, for example, the two longest contributions. In ``Trucking Through the AIDS Belt'' Ted Conover spends time on the road with Central African truckers (``true museums of disease,'' a doctor calls them), while in ``The Last Shot'' Darcy Frey hangs out with black high school basketball players, examining the ``cherished parable'' that college scholarships provide a way out of the ghetto. (Frey has expanded this piece into a book. See p. 1185.) Frey's piece is excellent; Conover's, though more diffuse, is still pretty good. Yet it's questionable whether these in-depth reporting pieces can really be considered ``narrative essays'' (Kidder's term). Other entries collected by series editor Atwan and Pulitzer Prize-winning guest editor Kidder (Old Friends, 1993, etc.) hew more closely to the form. There is cultural commentary: Adam Gopnik on the ``High Morbid Manner'' in contemporary art, Cynthia Ozick finding echoes of Henry James in Salman Rushdie's appearance at a Paris seminar, David Denby celebrating a Dead White Male (Homer) on his return to Columbia nearly 30 years after graduation. There are reflections on our relationship to our habitat (William Langewiesche's marvelously lucid account of aviation's coming of age) and the animals we share it with (Vicki Hearne, in the collection's most delightfully offbeat entry, finding ``deep knowledge about animals...in a trained-orangutan act on a Las Vegas stage''). Disappointingly, the collection has only one essay on our political and social relations: James McPherson's vapid consideration of Martin Luther King's ideas about community. Lastly, there are lively autobiographical sketches. Treating a sadistic male patient, Lauren Slater finds surprising links to her anorexic past, while Lucy Grealy, assessing years of reconstructive surgery, ponders the link between the face and the self. Outshining them all is the series' ever-bright star, Stanley Elkin. In incandescent prose, he writes about the worst days of his life (``the season of my madness''); the result is both harrowing and wildly funny. A solid addition to an annual series that has won many plaudits.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-69254-7

Page Count: 321

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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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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