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Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from the New Yorker Paperback – October 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"[A] marvelous tour of another era of magazine writing, before Mailer, Didion, Capote and Wolfe transformed the medium with literary ambition and electric Kool-Aid. . . . do yourself a favor, and buy the book." -

"In his time there was scarcely anyone more skilled than Gibbs. . . . Exceptional prose is far more of a rarity in journalism than most of us in the trade like to believe, so when it occurs it should be treasured and preserved. This is what has been done in Backward Ran Sentences." - The Washington Post

"A real contribution to the history of journalism." - The Palm Beach Post

"Gibbs might have slid into oblivion but for the fact that an editor and journalist named Thomas Vinciguerra, much taken with Gibbs's writing, has gone to the work of assembling an impressive, and substantial, collection of his prose." - The Weekly Standard

"With most of his writing still buried in the files of the magazine, it was left for the enterprising Thomas Vinciguerra to compile this ample--perhaps more than ample--selection from Gibbs's work. The collection shows that the best of Gibbs remains pointedly entertaining." - Columbia Journalism Review

Now the rest of Gibbs -- or a very generous sampling -- is finally back in print. It's delicious stuff. You'll find Talk of the Town stories, profiles, pitch-perfect parodies (the one of Ernest Hemingway is especially wicked), and reviews... Gibbs wasn't always right, and he didn't go out of his way to be nice. But he was always sharp, and every one of these pieces could be a primer on everything that magazine articles should be (but very seldom are). (Very Short List)

If you're gripped with the feeling that they don't write 'em like they used to, we refer you to Backward Ran Sentences, probably [James Wolcott's] only competition this season in the categories of wit, wordplay and all-around insouciance. (New York Observer)

Readers who enjoy the style and wit of The New Yorker will love this collection. It is easy to dip into for the perfect piece, and the large selection will satisfy. (Library Journal)

In its range and virtuosity, Backward Ran Sentences reminds the reader that what Gibbs wrote about Benchley could just as easily have been written about himself: 'He was sure, wonderfully resourceful, and his style... would have been admirable applied to anything.' (Barnes & Noble Review)

He may be obscure now, but Wolcott Gibbs was a New Yorker giant who held sway in the magazine's glory years with the likes of E.B. White, James Thurber, and Dorothy Parker...Vinciguerra offers a hefty sampling of Gibbs's versatile and voluminous oeuvre...Journalists, critics, and wordsmiths...will appreciate his dry, sharp wit, keen observational skills, elegant condescension, and take-no-prisoners attitude. (Publishers Weekly)

About the Author

Wolcott Gibbs, born in 1902, began working at the New Yorker in 1927. A supremely gifted writer and editor, he had, by his mid-thirties, published more than a million words in the magazine, covering every section, although he was best known, in his later years, as a sharp theater critic. Gibbs died at the age of 56 on Fire Island.

Thomas Vinciguerra is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and former deputy editor of The Week.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195503
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #671,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By gcproculus on February 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For all his surliness, Gibbs was a thoughtful and perceptive critic and, especially given the deadlines he faced, a superb writer. He was also, of course, not just funny but witty, and this compendium presents him at his best. Recommended without reservation to literates everywhere.
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Don Reed on November 20, 2012
Format: Paperback
Backward Ran Sentences, The Best of Wolcott Gibbs [1902-58] From The New Yorker, Thomas Vinciguerra; Bloomsbury (2011)

No lengthy review, as of today, November 20, 2012.

Maybe it's the sour taste in the mouth due to the annual travesty of our obscenely commercialized Thanksgiving-Christmas season, which is now upon us. Could be the lingering after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, which interrupted the reading (& how!).

Maybe it was the final 176 pages ("Theatre & Film Criticism"; "Personal & Professional Essays"; & the Coda, "The Theory & Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles"), which - in comparison to the earlier superb Introduction by editor Thomas Vinciguerra & the excellent-to-superb Notes & Comments, the Profiles, the Parodies, & the Casuals - dragged like the dead cat blues, with Gibbs himself in his later years flagrantly violating editor Harold Ross's editing guideline:

"The more 'as matter of facts,' 'howevers,' [&] 'for instances'... you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven" (p. 652).

Add Gibbs's innumerable "of courses," "the fact thats," "indeeds," & the "obviouslys" to the list of clichéd phrases that obliterate prose, & you've got a clogged up pattern of writing that not even a plumber's snake can fix.

And Gibbs had had such a wonderful reputation as an editor. Read his story about how he became disillusioned with the theatre, having discovered its tendency to deliver the opposite of what it advertises, then become discouraged yourself as the fact dawns that Gibbs can't hold a candle to the collected, reprinted works of E.B. White, A.J. Liebling & St. Clair McKelway.

Perhaps it was the unintentionally depressing Foreword by the once-humorous P.J.
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