Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Art of Nonfiction

from Shelf Awareness

Starred Review

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Tracy Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine) and his longtime editor, Richard Todd, are rock stars of narrative nonfiction. When they talk about their art and craft, you'd be wise to listen. In Good Prose they share both practical editing advice and general narrative recommendations relating to things like structure, point of view, style and voice. Rather than just collaborating on a single seamless text, however, each intersperses his own thoughts amid the guidelines and examples. The resulting easygoing ramble on good writing is as entertaining as it is useful.

It is hard to avoid aphorisms in this sort of book, and Kidder and Todd are not afraid to include several. For example, in discussing where to start a work, they caution that "the heart of the story is a place to arrive at, not a place to begin." In a discussion of authorial voice, they advise "if you can't imagine saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn't write it." Fortunately, they break the schoolhouse rules with pertinent quotations from many nonfiction writers (from Montaigne to David Foster Wallace) and personal commentaries on Kidder's own books.

When thousands of books, tweets, 'zines and blogs confront readers every day, perhaps the best advice Kidder and Todd have for writers is to first ask themselves: "Who am I to be writing this? Who asked me? Who cares?" Honest answers here might mercifully cut down the clutter. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: An entertaining, useful ramble about good writing by a Pulitzer Prize-winning master and his longtime editor.
Random House, US$26 hardcover, 9781400069750

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