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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction Hardcover – January 15, 2013
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“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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent guide to writing non fiction or fiction for that matter.Published 24 days ago by wrobertsjr
I particularly enjoyed the interplay in the last chapter as the authors exchanged their views on each other's roles. Priceless insight.Published 1 month ago by Daniel G. Murray
I enjoyed reading these thoughts on the writing process by Kidder and his editor of many years. Made me want to go back and read some more of their books.Published 3 months ago by cprkwy8
Hands down the best book for writers, if only to show you that great writers are not perfect. Great writers often have great editors helping them along. Read morePublished 3 months ago by TABHairoun
I really enjoyed this book. I had no expectation when I bought it, and I am glad I did not. It is easy and approachable. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Gloria Hieser
For everyone interested in the art of writing it's an essential work.Published 5 months ago by F. Gonzalez-Soldevilla
Love the works of Tracy Kidder and this book is a great story of how he got started. How lucky he was to have Richard Todd, his editor, right there with him! Read morePublished 7 months ago by Nancy Nichols
Brilliant tool for all writers – readable, wise tips, and demonstrates what it seeks to teach. Nothing better.Published 11 months ago by Jinny S. Ditzer