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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction Hardcover – January 15, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Kidder might not have won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award if he hadn’t met editor Todd at the Atlantic Monthly in 1973. The two have been in cahoots ever since, and they now share their dedication to “good prose” and expertise in creating it with warmth, zest, and wit in this well-structured, to-the-point, genuinely useful, and fun-to-read guide to writing narrative nonfiction, essays, and memoir, and to being edited, a crucial, though often overlooked, step. Kidder and Todd each tell tales about the challenges they’ve faced in anecdotal passages that alternate with joint discussions of increasingly complex matters of content, style, and tricky moral issues that highlight the pitfalls and privileges involved in writing factual stories. Kidder and Todd also offer some of the most lucid, specific, and tested guidance available about technical essentials, from determining what makes a good nonfiction story to choosing a point of view to achieving accuracy and clarity. Rich in quotes from such standard-setting nonfiction artists as Orwell, McPhee, and Didion, Kidder and Todd’s book about strong writing is crisp, informative, and mind-expanding. --Donna Seaman


“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

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction takes us into the back room behind the shop, where strong, effective, even beautiful sentences are crafted. Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor, Richard Todd, offer lots of useful advice, and, still more, they offer insight into the painstaking collaboration, thoughtfulness, and hard work that create the masterful illusion of effortless clarity.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Good Prose offers consummate guidance from one of our finest writers and his longtime editor. Explaining that ‘the techniques of fiction never belonged exclusively to fiction,’ Kidder and Todd make a persuasive case that ‘no techniques of storytelling are prohibited to the nonfiction writer, only the attempt to pass off invention as facts.’ Writers of all stripes, from fledgling journalists to essayists of the highest rank, stand to benefit from this engrossing manual.”—Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild
“What a pleasure to read a book about good prose written in such good prose! It will make many of its readers better writers (though none as good as Tracy Kidder, who sets an impossible standard), and it will make all of them wish they could hire Richard Todd to work his editorial magic on their words.”—Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
“Few editors have the good fortune to work with writers as talented as Tracy Kidder, and even fewer writers are blessed with editors who have the skills, the standards, and the dedication of Richard Todd. I don’t think there’s a writer on the planet who could read this product of their four-decade collaboration and not walk away with much that is useful, and even more that is profound.”—Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call
“Books about how to be a better writer crowd the shelves, but I’ve read nothing nearly as wise, useful, and page-for-page fun as Good Prose, itself a work of art. This concise, delightfully stylish book offers a master class on nonfiction, packed with keen, hard-won insights and delivered with warmth, humor, and a total lack of pedantry. Reading it felt like enjoying a fireside dinner with two generous veterans of the craft. Finishing it made me want to get straight back to my desk.”—Darcy Frey, author of The Last Shot

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069750
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069750
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tracy Kidder graduated from Harvard and studied at the University of Iowa. He has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Award, and many other literary prizes. The author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, My Detachment, Home Town, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren, House, and The Soul of a New Machine, Kidder lives in Massachusetts and Maine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Debnance at Readerbuzz on January 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Wanna-be writers like me are always looking for good books on good writing. I love Tracy Kidder's writing and, if Richard Todd is, indeed, Kidder's long-time editor, then he is also on my Good Boy list.

So I thus fell into that old trap of Anticipating and Having Expectations that so often disappoints.

I tell you this so you won't Anticipate and Expect, too.

This is a lovely book, a lovely story of friendship and learning to work together, and learning to write and learning to edit, but it is not much of a book about how to write well. That isn't to say that this book isn't full of ideas about how to write well, but put it down if it's an authoritative how-to book that you are seeking. Lots of stories that will make you smile if you've read much Kidder but that's really it.

I'm going to really be daring here---as I step out on a thin limb---and assert that in my (VH) opinion what this book could have used is a good editor. And a better title.

Just my two cents as a reader. And let me close by using an old psychological technique of Blaming the Victim: had this been a better how-to book, perhaps I could now be writing a better review of this book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pulitzer prize winner Tracy Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine) and his friend and frequent collaborator Richard Todd share the wisdom they have accumulated over a 40 year span. Both readers and/or writers who buy Good Prose can reap the benefits of the authors' experience.
I often paused to ponder the authors' words and opinions about what it takes to produce solid and resonant nonfiction. One example: a warning not to confuse facts with "truth". Information can be tailored to express a particular viewpoint that might be factually accurate - but still off base in so many other ways - perhaps missing the heart of an event, a person's experience or more.

There is more about fact and truth in "Beyond Accuracy", a chapter which focuses both on accuracy as well as the picture created in readers' minds by writers. Do the facts convey the deeper realities and truths behind those facts?

When it comes to interviews, Kidder and Todd urge writers to respect those people who are generous and trusting enough to share parts of their lives. The authors also suggest that writers behave as guests- knowing when to listen, question, and encourage those they interview.

This book should be a staple in any aspiring nonfiction writer's library, especially as an aid for understanding what goes into creating solid nonfiction pieces - and discerning those which are weaker or inauthentic. Examples from various writers: George Orwell, Janet Malcolm, and John D'Agata (among others) provide lessons as well as perspectives on various forms of nonfiction.

Kidd and Todd are not shy about criticizing other writers' beliefs and practices. They provide plenty of material which illustrate mistakes, both in writing and viewpoint, from others.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By HeatherHH on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not what I expected, which was a cohesive guide to writing good nonfiction. Instead it's more a collection of essays sharing thoughts about different aspects of the writing process. They are some interesting reflections, but the topics covered are not in any way covered thoroughly. The book is definitely much more philosophical than how-to. It's also in many ways a memoir, with lots of bits shared about the authors' history as writer and editor, their personal writing projects, etc. Some of it is relevant to the subject of good prose, but a lot of it is not.

If you're interesting in musings and memories related to nonfiction writing, the editing process, etc, then give it a try, because that is done well in a conversational style. But, if you're more interested in something that will help you learn how to write well (and I'm not meaning grammar and basic mechanics, but beyond that), then I'd keep looking.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Lita Perna VINE VOICE on December 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a collaboration by writer, Tracy Kidder and editor, Richard Toddd who have worked together for 40 years since Richard Todd edited Kidder's first story for the Atlantic Monthly in the early 1970's.

The author and editor discuss narrarives, memoirs, essays, acuracy, style, art and commerce and being edited and editing.

The chapter, 'Notes on Usage' which discusses neologisms and 'bad' (my word) form is helpful and may raise a smile of recognition.

There are words of good advice: Start slow; 'The trick is not to make everything into a grand idea, but to treat something specific with such attention that it magnifies into significance'; 'market plans are nonsense'; 'fall out of love with your own words'.

This book is an amusing companion.

Todd thinks (not unkindly) that writers are by nature narcissists. He thinks to maintain one's project as preminently worthy requires a distorted sense of reality.
There's an excellent biblography.
The gems in this book make reading through the boring parts worth the effort.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeremey Donovan on August 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though I have 3 self-published and 2 soon to be released traditionally published books, I consider myself to be a mostly untrained writer. To that end, I try to read every book about the art of writing I can such as Stephen King's "On Writing."

This book is both inspirational and educational. Some reviewers have complained that the friendship narrative is too strong and that the educational aspect is too light. I rather enjoyed the balance. This is not a how-to guide; rather it is a series of the most important epiphanies that a writer and his editor experienced during a decades long partnership.

Here are my takeaways:
- "imagine for the reader an intelligence at least equal to the intelligence you imagine for yourself"
- "Good writing creates a dialogue between writer and reader, with the imagined reader at moments questioning, criticizing, and sometimes, you hope, assenting."
- "Beginnings [of books, articles, etc.] are an exercise in limits."
- "Clarity does not always mean brevity or simplicity."
- "[Putting most important facts of a story first] translates poorly to longer forms of writing."
- "The most important conflict often happens within a character, or within the narrator."
- "Revelation, someone's learning something, is what transforms event into story."
- "Point of view is a place to stand, but more than that, a way to think and feel."
- "As a rule, the smaller the canvas, the more intrusive the first person is likely to be."
- "Writers of fiction and nonfiction still have the distinctive and necessary task of getting the reader to do the necessary work of imagining... what we want are essences."
- "Above all, setting tells what is at issue.
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