Twenty-five fiction writers answer the former Esquire literary editor’s question: why do you write? Blythe, now fiction editor at Mirabella, envisions this anthology as a counterpoint to the flood of how-to books that assume “some odd, unspoken consensus that imaginative writing is an activity well worth pursuing.” His larger question, then, is why should anyone write. Ultimately, there’s no better answer than the entertaining diversity of the answers we get here, which are various as snowflakes. They range from the high-minded (Richard Ford champions literature in the age of Seinfeld) to the flippant (Stephen Wright repeats for four pages “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”). Norman Mailer, uncharacteristically humble and brief, writes to feel “a quintessential religious emotion.” Mark Jacobson writes for the money, and “to dis Dad.” Others, like Terry McMillan, write for deliverance: “This writing stuff saved me.” The tone ranges from Thom Jones’s profane rant against the “blow job” method of career advancement to the pained embarrassment of a perpetually blushing Amy Hempel to Pat Conroy’s unabashed song of himself (“When I write a book, I move with all the magic of language toward a fixed star, offering a present of my troubled, violent spirit”). Among the most affecting are Ann Patchett’s heartfelt tribute to Alan Gurganus (in which she admits wanting to write because of the elegant, cultured figure cut by Gurganus when he taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence) and Mark Richard’s essay, which reads like a novel outline and details the safe haven books provided in his difficult childhood. There’s useful advice beneath the inspiration, too: Rick Bass’s “Why the Daily Writing of Fiction Matters” should be required reading in all creative writing workshops. By turns cantankerous and dreamy, and an inspiration to writers and readers alike—a living monument to the vitality and value of the writing life.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 1998

ISBN: 0-316-10229-6

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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