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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy…

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction (edition 2013)

by Tracy Kidder, Richard Todd

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2092755,966 (3.9)20
Title:Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction
Authors:Tracy Kidder
Other authors:Richard Todd
Info:Random House (2013), Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Your library

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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder



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This sadly seemed like a story of days gone by, days when publishers would travel town to town asking if anyone had a book in their closet, and some random person would pull out a box with an international blockbuster. In this case, days when writers had a personal relationship with their editor. Days when there actually were editors.

I found it all very interesting. It is a rather intimate look at a friendship and professional relationship. If I were casting it, it would have to be Jimmy Stewart and June Allison (hey! this is my fantasy). No one today would have a glimmer of what Todd and Kidder have lived through. ( )
  kaulsu | Nov 22, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Kidder and Todd but together a book about writing non-fiction. It goes over several types of non-fiction although I am not sure if the division is needed as some of the advice is capable of being used for any form of non-fiction or even fiction. I've read better. I've read worse. ( )
  melsmarsh | Dec 29, 2013 |
Brief Summary: Two friends, a writer and his editor, talk about what makes good writing, and in doing so they present an intimate view into why writers love what they do.

The Tsundoku Scale: Top of the Pile, 9 out of 10.

The Good:
This is not a book I would have ever chosen without a recommendation, but it is a book I am truly grateful to have read. Good Prose is the first true conversation I have ever seen in book form. It flows, like a conversation between two old friends that begins at one point and slowly climbs the mountain of connected ideas to end at another higher point where one can survey the land that they have climbed, and shake their head in amazement at how they’ve gotten so far. The book begins as a book supposedly on style and grammar, but it ends up being part essay/memoir, using “good prose” to take a deeper look into the writer’s connection to writing. I love the candid, funny stories that sprout throughout the narrative from how Tracy Kidder once spent almost half a year writing one newspaper article because The Atlantic thought it was too terrible to publish, to how Kidder and Richard Todd have a ritual of reading the entire almost complete book as part of their editing process. This is not in anyways a grammar lesson (although you do learn a lot about grammar); this is a memoir on writing and I have never enjoyed more learning how to write, or more exactly (as the book truly seems to be getting at), learning how to see the inner joy in writing.

The Bad:
I absolutely loved this book, and it certainly connected with me, but I am not really sure how much it’s really a book. This is the kind of book one can only write when one’s been established, and all the rules of what kind of book sells goes out the window. Good Prose goes from grammar rules, to essays on writing style, to memoirs without much order that I can see—and while, as I said before, it grows like a conversation (which I enjoyed), it may be difficult or frustrating for some to read. Also, it is often unclear whether it is Kidder or Todd that is speaking at certain points in the book, which makes it harder to truly appreciate each’s own unique character. The one part that I really did not like in the book, however, was that it went to a list of boring grammar rules at the very end. As I said before, this is not by any means a grammar book, and it was annoying, and a little disappointing, to see the authors try to force the book’s flow back to where it started in the end of the book.

Please check out TsundokuReviews.wordpress.com for more great reviews! ( )
  Matt8000 | Jul 8, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received "Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction" as an Early Reviewer book a couple of months ago and I'm sorry to say I forgot to review it until now. I'm usually very prompt, but I wasn't inspired -- I enjoyed the book, but I just didn't have a lot to say about this one that hasn't been said by other reviewers. I really enjoy Tracy Kidder's writing and I was interested to find that he has to work very hard at his craft, rewriting over and over until he satisfies himself and his editor, Richard Todd. I like books on writing, but this one isn't so much a "how to do it" as it is a memoir on Todd and Kidder's relationship over many years and many books. Nice to read their different viewpoints, but it's kind of an odd book to categorize. As biography, it's more about the work than the authors, but as a book on writing, it's mainly about their relationship. I suppose that ultimately it does emphasize how important a good editor can be to a writer, and for that reason alone it's probably a good book for a writer to read. My next book on writing will be Fowler's "Modern English Usage," though. ( )
  mmckay | Apr 25, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
During the past three decades American culture has become louder, faster, more disjointed. For immediacy of effect, writers can’t compete with popular music or action movies, cable network news or the multiplying forms of instant messaging. We think that writers shouldn’t try, and that there is no need to try. Writing remains the best route we know toward clarity of thought and feeling.

Amen! However: that’s like newspaper’s argument against radio and television -- that depth beats immediacy -- and as generations are abandoning newspaper’s depth, so I fear they will abandon writing’s clarity.

Anyway, Good Prose is a combination memoir + lessons-learned about writing and editing nonfiction (narratives, essays and memoirs), written by a writer and his long-time editor. It covers narrative elements (story, characters, point of view, setting, structure); style (from dense journalese to wandering vernacular); truth vs. fact (and fact vs. manipulation); art vs. commercial success; and re-writing/being edited. It’s like a broader, deeper version of the “A Conversation with Author X” programs held at auditoriums and book fests, and is one of the better books “on writing” for readers and beginning writers. Plus, its discussions of Kidder’s (and others’) books increased my wishlist by about ten.

I marked dozens of passages, here are several:

To write is to talk to strangers. You want them to trust you. You might well begin by trusting them -- by imagining for the reader an intelligence at least equal to the intelligence you imagine for yourself.

Point of view is the place from which a storyteller listens in and watches. {...It’s} a place to stand, but more than that, a way to think and feel. {...} Against a large background, “I” can provide human scale. {...} the smaller the canvas, the more intrusive the first person is likely to be.

Most memoirists, struggling for accuracy, would endorse this rough code of conduct: faithfulness to fact defined as faithfulness to one’s own memories. {But} like the act of remembering, the act of writing your own story inevitably distorts, if only by creating form where disorder reigns. {...} That’s one point of a story: to replace confusion with sense. The impulse of memoir is itself a fictive impulse.

With good writing the reader enjoys a doubleness of experience, succumbing to the story or the ideas while also enjoying the writer’s artfulness.

I always wince when a reviewer says, “This book needed an editor.” Often it had an editor, but the writer prevailed. Sometimes a book arrives at an editor’s desk too late for the editor to make a substantial difference.

The kind of rewriting one learns, or used to learn, in high school or in a college freshman composition class, is a chore that mainly involves tinkering -- moving sentences and paragraphs around, prettying up a phrase, crossing out words and substituting better ones. {...But there’s a} second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story.
( )
2 vote DetailMuse | Apr 24, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tracy Kidderprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Todd, RichardAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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"Good Prose" is an inspiring book about writing--about the creation of good prose--and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship.

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