Several Short Sentences about Writing – 4/5 Stars
I find this small book to be a very clear, direct, and helpful book about writing. As a writing teacher, I find that students generally are unimpressed with the idea that the only way to learn how to write is to write, get feedback, work on writing and go from there. Students want a frame and format to plug in sentences and go from there. That’s not exactly true for students who are more natural in their writing, but even they can find it frustrating to not “nail it” in one go. So this book provides some clearer instruction in regards to how to approach the idea of writing, working on one sentence at a time and seeing where the writing takes you. I am not wholly convinced exactly in this process, but there’s a lot of good here to provide students some guidance. What I find especially good about this book is the final section where Klinkenborg gives long passages that work, and explains why they work. He then gives lots of sentences that don’t work, and why they don’t work, and how you could fix them. You’d be shocked if you’ve never looked for model sentences how bad online resources tend to be.
“Without extraneous words or phrases or clauses, there will be room for implication. The longer the sentence, the less it’s able to imply, And writing by implication should be one of your goals. Implication is almost nonexistent in the prose that surrounds you, The prose of law, science, business, journalism, and most academic fields. It was nonexistent in the way you were taught to write. That means you don’t know how to use one of a writer’s most important tools: The ability to suggest more than the words seem to allow, The ability to speak to the reader in silence.
Bait and Switch – 4/5 Stars
Maybe because I find middle class job seekers less sympathetic than employed and exploited working class people, this book is pretty funny. It helps that Barbara Ehrenreich also finds a lot of the trappings of business class job searching and the industries it creates to be patently absurd, if not outright hilarious. Ehrenreich positions herself as an out of work white collar worker in abstract and vague fields and experiences and begins to seek work as a writing project.
What she finds is that job websites don’t work, resumes are routinely trashed, career coaches and job search specialists are generally full of shit, and the jobs that one can find (especially if you’re a made up candidate) are also deeply exploitative, barely not pyramid schemes (or just are pyramid schemes), and provide more isolation and alienation than financial comfort.
“For all the talk about the need to be a likable “team player,” many people work in a fairly cutthroat environment that would seem to be especially challenging to those who possess the recommended traits. Cheerfulness, upbeatness, and compliance: these are the qualities of subordinates — of servants rather than masters, women (traditionally, anyway) rather than men. After advising his readers to overcome the bitterness and negativity engendered by frequent job loss and to achieve a perpetually sunny outlook, management guru Harvey Mackay notes cryptically that “the nicest, most loyal, and most submissive employees are often the easiest people to fire.” Given the turmoil in the corporate world, the prescriptions of niceness ring of lambs-to-the-slaughter.”
Girl – 2/5 Stars
The book has all the problems you might assume it does. It’s well meaning, it’s beautifully written, and you feel a little unnerved and itchy throughout because you ask yourself, why in the world is this author writing this book? I am not automatically against writers writing against identity or expanding, but here the issue is that this story is essentially a true story, in the sense that it’s about a very real situation, a very real set of circumstances, characters that are all but real, and so the narration of this story absolutely feels like it should be limited to those who either experienced events similar to these, or could have by their very being. Edna O’Brien, a white 00 year old Irish writer cannot claim anything remotely like this. She’s not alone in picking up a story she’d be better off leaving behind and writing a canny enough book as a result. We’re in The Confessions of Nat Turner territory here, but at Styron wasn’t writing about someone who very well could be alive and still experiencing this. I didn’t spend enough time thinking about whether or not we’re dealing with a wholly exploitative book–O’Brien doesn’t need anything here–but it certainly doesn’t sit right having finished it.
Heaven – 4/5 Stars
This novel is about two bullied middle school students who begin sending letters back and forth, beginning a tentative and precious friendship. Our narrator is a 14 year old boy who is bullied because he has a lazy eye. The bullying he receives is violent, sudden, fierce, and even nonsensical at times. These beatings include at least one significant visit to a hospital. We learn over time that his home life is a little fractured as well, where he lives with his oblivious but well-meaning (kind of) mom. Readers will notice very early on that teachers are not acting in loco parentis any more than teachers are acting in situ parentis. One day he begins receiving small notes under his desk. He thinks it’s a trick by the bullies to trap him and embarrass him, but when the notes ask him to meet up, we learn it is not the bullies but a girl in his class who is also bullied. She is teased constantly for her size and her hygiene. The two become friends, but almost exclusively through the notes, and never in school. The story follows the development of this relationship and their respective bullying.
You’ll Never Believe what Happened to Lacey – 5/5 Stars
I am not nearly as huge of a fan of Amber Ruffin as the internet collectively (minus some entire sections) seems to be. I only mention that because this book was an absolutely smash for me. I am certain the printed book is great too, but having the two authors here playing off each other is a perfect listening experience.
The book is this: Amber Ruffin has a lot to say about racism in America (and I am sure in the world as well), but has grown tired of constantly trying to explain or convince (white) people. So she brings her sister into this book the two of them tell dozens of stories about Lacey’s run-ins with racists and racism. The book covers a wife variety of experiences from driving, shopping, working, sexual harassments, and other shockingly mundane parts of Lacey’s life. I saw mundane because it seems almost like an everyday thing for her to have these experience. Lacey is laconic and straightforward about her experiences, while Amber provides depth, analysis, effervescence, and humor to most (but not all) of the scenes. The scenes are all just so regular that it’s more sad, tiring, and meaningful than huge experiences of racism.
The effect for me is better than almost any other anti-racist books because the storytelling is so effective, the couching of the two sisters provides a very genuine place to see the harm and pain, and it’s just so hard to deny or even be defensive about these experiences.