"Good Prose" is an inspiring book about writing--about the creation of good prose--and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of "The Atlantic Monthly, " in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Read more...
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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. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of "The Atlantic Monthly, " in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lifelong association. Before long, Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine, " the first book the two worked on together, had won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a heady moment, but for Kidder and Todd it was only the beginning of an education in the art of nonfiction.
"Good Prose "explores three major nonfiction forms: narratives, essays, and memoirs. Kidder and Todd draw candidly, sometimes comically, on their own experience--their mistakes as well as accomplishments--to demonstrate the pragmatic ways in which creative problems get solved. They also turn to the works of a wide range of writers, novelists as well as nonfiction writers, for models and instruction. They talk about narrative strategies (and about how to find a story, sometimes in surprising places), about the ethical challenges of nonfiction, and about the realities of making a living as a writer. They offer some tart and emphatic opinions on the current state of language. And they take a clear stand against playing loose with the facts. Their advice is always grounded in the practical world of writing and publishing.
"Good Prose"--like Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style--"is a succinct, authoritative, and entertaining arbiter of standards in contemporary writing, offering guidance for the professional writer and the beginner alike. This wise and useful book is the perfect companion for anyone who loves to read good books and longs to write one.
Praise for "Good Prose"
"Smart, lucid, and entertaining."--"The Boston Globe"
"You are in such good company--congenial, ironic, a bit old-school--that you're happy to follow Kidder and Todd] where they lead you."--"The Wall Street Journal"
" A] well-structured, to-the-point, genuinely useful, and fun-to-read guide to writing narrative nonfiction, essays, and memoir . . . Crisp, informative, and mind-expanding."--"Booklist"" "
"A gem . . . The finer points of creative nonfiction are molded into an inspiring read that will affect the would-be writer as much as Anne Lamott's" Bird by Bird "or Stephen King's "On Writing. ." . . This is a must read for nonfiction writers."--"Library Journal"
"As approachable and applicable as any writing manual available."--Associated Press
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-10-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Kidder (Strength in What Remains) teams with his longtime editor Todd (formerly at the Atlantic Monthly) to write a comprehensive, practical look at the best practices of professional nonfiction writers and editors. While Kidder and Todd’s goal is to provide guidance for writing excellent “essays, memoirs, and factual narratives,” anecdotes and close readings throughout the text are an excellent resource for would-be writers of any prose genre. In an unusual move, the authors maintain their individual voices; some short sections are signed TK or RT, while other longer sections are written in an authoritative third person. Chapters offer advice from the field regarding “beginnings,” narrative, memoir, essays, factual reporting, style, the business of writing, editing, and usage. Full of quotable aphorisms, the text is nonetheless often lethargic and ends in an unsatisfying list reminiscent of Strunk and White that lacks the wisdom of the earlier chapters. Readers will find the book to be more of a textbook than a how-to, but the lessons within are worth the slog. Agent: Betsy Lerner, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Notes on writing well
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of such notable books as Among Schoolchildren and The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder is one of our finest writers of narrative nonfiction. That was not always the case. As he tells us in Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction, whatever raw talent he possessed at the start was honed under the exacting guidance of his longtime editor, Richard Todd. Their serendipitous pairing occurred at The Atlantic when both were young men, and the collaboration has been an amiable and clearly fruitful one.
Kidder and Todd have teamed up to write Good Prose, providing a fond glimpse into their own symbiotic working relationship along with a healthy dose of practical advice for writers of nonfiction. “Editing isn’t just something that happens to you,” Kidder writes in what might be the book’s core statement. “You have to learn how to be edited.” That essential learning curve plays out in the intertwined stories of these two literary men, which began in 1973, when Kidder was 27 and Todd 32. Their subsequent 40-year partnership seems an enviable throwback to a slower-paced, more genteel—and much lamented—era in publishing.
Structured more as a writing manual than a memoir (and it is both), Good Prose tackles the usual fundamentals, such as story, point of view, characters and structure. The two men giving the instruction, though, are masters, so even these nuts-and-bolts aspects of the book rise above the norm. Pulling examples from many great writers of nonfiction—from Joan Didion and John McPhee to David Sedaris to Thoreau and Emerson—they plumb the specifics of what makes good writing great. Much of this discussion, appropriately, focuses on Kidder’s own work and the ways Todd has helped him sharpen and invigorate it. Kidder writes candidly about the false starts and lost direction that any writer encounters; Todd supplies the rudder for getting back on course.
Pulitzer winner Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor share writing tips and the secrets of their successful collaboration.
Good Prose might be pigeonholed as a manual for aspiring writers, but it is so much more, not least of all because it is written with the same narrative grace it espouses. By building the book around their singular working relationship, Kidder and Todd are allowing us into their professional and, to some extent, personal lives, yet without the narcissistic posturing or calculated manipulation that saturates so much of today’s memoir writing. At its core, the book exudes a passion for good writing achieved through hard work—not the sexiest of topics, for sure, but one these accomplished men manage to make seem so.
The proof of Kidder’s talent rests on library shelves everywhere, but one of the delights of Good Prose is discovering an equally skilled writer in Todd. Editors, by nature, are self-effacing, and while some of them can identify good writing and even improve it, they might not have the writer’s gift themselves. Not so Todd. His sections of the book are as elegant and eloquent as Kidder’s, his insight invaluable: “All good writing is ultimately a contest with the inexpressible,” he tells us. “Every good passage leaves something unsaid. So it ought to be hard.”
Brisk and informative, Good Prose is recommended reading not only for writers, but for anyone who cares about, well, good prose.