Monday, February 25, 2013

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

If I asked for the names ten authors, I am sure that most of you could almost effortlessly give me a list from the tops of your heads.  But if I asked for the names of even two editors, unless you are a publishing insider, I would likely get a very different result.  That is part of the reason that Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction makes for such interesting reading.  The book, part writing manual, part memoir, was co-written from the points-of-view of author Tracy Kidder and his editor of more than 40-years collaboration, Richard Todd.

The pair met in 1973 when Todd was assigned by The Atlantic Monthly to work with young freelancer Tracy Kidder.  Todd was the slightly older, wiser writing practitioner who would walk Kidder through the process of getting published in one of the country’s oldest, and most prestigious, magazines for the first time.  But that would be just the beginning for these two because that Atlantic article would ultimately evolve into Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine.  The memories of those early days shared by Todd and Kidder make for some rather intriguing (and heartwarming) reading as their work relationship develops into a more enduring one of respect and true friendship. 

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
But, as the book’s subtitle, Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing, suggests, it is also filled with good advice and instruction pertaining to writing narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and essays.  The chapter on narratives, for instance, covers details like point of view, characters, and structure.  There are also whole chapters on accuracy, style, and “being edited and editing.”  The authors also offer practical business advice based upon the current state of the publishing industry (a glimpse of the art vs. commerce part of the business) and encouragement to the novice writer.  Too, there is a more “nuts and bolts” section tiled “Notes on Usage” that addresses things like the distinctions between “which and that,” “who and whom,” and “may and might.”

Bottom line: don’t expect a complete, detailed manual on writing because Good Prose is not that kind of book.  But, on the other hand, readers will enjoy, and benefit from this one, as much as any budding writer out there.  

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