- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 5, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594488487
- ISBN-13: 978-1594488481
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #287,865 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them
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Praise for Memoir: A History
"Spirited... Yagoda's incisive exploration is a worthy study of a genre that even now cannot completely be defined." -- Los Angeles Times
“Perceptive, thorough, and amusing.”-- New York Magazine
“This idea-driven cultural criticism leads to all kinds of interesting places.” -- Christian Science Monitor
“Ben Yagoda is one of the most subtle—and entertaining—writers about writing one can find. His history of the memoir reads between the lines—and the lies—with illuminating precision.” —Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars
“We owe Ben Yagoda such a huge debt of thanks: his witty, comprehensive, and insightful ‘biography’ of the form reminds us why the memoir matters – and will continue to matter as long as humans think, read, and write. This is literary criticism at its lively best.” —David Friedman, author of A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis and The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever
“A shrewd and witty history of memoir sweeps us from Julius Caesar to James Frey. Our guide, Ben Yagoda, is always fine company, with just the right word, kindly good judgment, and another great story coming up on the next page. It's a splendid journey.” —Richard Ben Cramer, author of Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life and How Israel Lost: The Four Questions
"Fascinating… With its mixture of literary criticism, cultural history and just enough trivia, Yagoda’s survey is sure to appeal to scholars and bibliophiles alike.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Ben Yagoda is a journalism professor at the University of Delaware. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of ten books, including Memoir: A History, Will Rogers: A Biography, and When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, and has written for Slate, The New York Times Magazine, and publications that start with every letter of the alphabet except J, K, Q, X, and Z. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife.
Top customer reviews
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Mr. Yagoda covers many examples of bad-writing we're all guilty of, from the more basic:
- "Don't use a long word when there's a shorter one that means the same thing."
- "Avoid word repetition. Do not avoid it by means of 'elegant variation'--the use of a synonym for the express purpose of avoiding word repetition."
- "Never use whomever."
To the more advanced:
- "The trick is, when there's no readily apparent way to avoid repetition, it often works to find a word referring to a broader or narrower category of the first one. So painting/work is okay (broader), as is painting/neo-expressionistic portraits (narrower). But paintings/canvases is elegant variation."
- "Shark cage diving is a compound adjective--that is, a phrase made up of two or more words, that modifies a noun--and compound adjectives before a noun (experience) get hyphenated: 'my shark-cage-diving experience.'"
Some questions you may have always had about writing, but never bothered to ask, are probably also covered: Should you capitalize after a colon? (Only if what follows is a complete sentence, like what I just did.) Do commas and periods go inside or outside of the closing quotation? (Inside if you're American, outside if you're British.) Can you use parentheses inside of parentheses? (Yes, although you need to use brackets [like this] instead.)
In fact, the paragraph I just wrote is based on this tip from the book: "When you ask a question, answer it immediately." If not, "that question just lies there, unanswered, puzzling or bewildering the reader."
The most important piece of advice on how to write better is one word: read. Before going into anything else, Mr. Yagoda dedicates the first of the three main sections to the importance of reading. "Trying to be a not-bad writer without having read your share of others' work," he writes, "is like trying to come up with a new theory in physics without having paid attention to the scientists that came before you, or writing a symphony without having listened to a lot of music." In other words, reading this book alone won't turn you into a professional writer overnight. You need to read, and that doesn't include text messages and status updates. He writes: "How much reading will do the trick? The writer Malcolm Gladwell has popularized the notion that, in order to become an outstanding practitioner in any discipline, you need to devote to it roughly 10,000 hours of practice. I'll accept that in terms of reading."
So this book is hitting two birds with one stone: reading about writing. If your goal is to become a better writer (which should be everyone), you should definitely give this book a try.
Which isn't really saying much, what with all of those people burning and screaming and such, but you get the point.