Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: Several Short Sentences About Writing

Several Short Sentences About Writing Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I start a lot of books on writing, but I rarely finish them. I did finish this one, and I’d have welcomed more of it.

In short, this is the best book on writing I’ve come across since Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (and I’m not sure I finished even that one). Klinkenborg goes against almost everything “we” teach in college writing – and I am part of that we.

I won’t apologize for teaching an organizational approach to writing. I do believe beginning college writers need a sense of overall purpose to hold onto; I think they need to think about a thesis and how to support it.

But I think I stumble sometimes with teaching advanced or even advanced beginner writers. I try with them to do what Kilnkenborg advocates – to turn to the work of making good sentences even better – but I don’t have his range of strategies or insights.

Thanks to this book, I do. It’s so beautifully written that it forms its own best argument. Klinkenborg looks for the truth in each sentence and follows each thought where it goes. (To underscore that’s what he’s doing, he punctuates this is a way that makes it seem as much like poetry as prose.) The overall structure of the argument comes slowly and after the fact. As he says, “Here’s another basic truth. Prose isn’t validated by meaning. If you love to read – as surely you must – you love being where you find yourself in the book you’re reading, Happy to be in the presence of every sentence as it passes by, Not biding your time until the meaning comes along.”

I’d intended to underline some of the sentences here I especially enjoyed, but I couldn’t get to my pencil on the airplane where I read this. I’m glad now, though, because I might well have underlined half the book.

Word of warning: the final 50 page section is really an appendix, though it isn’t marked as such. It’s OK, an effort to show how to apply some of the book’s concepts, but it’s weaker than the heart of this, and I wish the publisher had had the courage to release the book without what feels a bit like “filler” at the end.

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