Kidder, Tracy and Todd, Richard. Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. Random House. 2013. NF;2/13.
I alternated between annoyance and delight reading this. Annoyed because however candid and original these guys are, they are preening, so we have to endure a didactic valedictory tone. The Boston seniority is on display and attempts at humility (“Let’s face it, this fellow can’t write.” says the Atlantic editor of Kidder about 40 years ago) only make things worse. Delighted because they do have some lovely things to say.
Start slowly and quietly. Although you can’t hook the reader with the first sentence, you can certainly lose him. If the writing is interesting, you are in search of the author. Play it like you don’t know how to play the guitar (advice from a jazz musician).
At times it’s a little hard to know which of them is talking. Kidder is the main author, the more famous of the two, and probably responsible for most of the book.
The section on style is my favorite. “Read the pompous writer with sympathy! … ask yourself what you are trying to avoid.” And one particularly lovely piece of advice: “You wake up one morning with a sentence in mind that contains a sound that unlocks a (writing) problem. Speak to no one, go and write that sentence down.” Somehow in the end, all the advice doesn’t find the traction a self-doubting writer like me would be moved by, looking for advice. It’s too distant and finally self-congratulatory. “Listen to yourself” they suggest. 7.4/8.0