The subtitle to Good Prose is The Art of Nonfiction, Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing. Tracy Kidder is an author probably recognized by a majority of readers, but Richard Todd, Kidder’s editor of more than forty years, is just as likely not. I can assure you that after reading “Good Prose” you will remember both names in a special way.
Good Prose is not a “how-to” book for aspiring writers, although it is a book I’d highly recommend to aspiring writers. It is a memoir of the relationship of two men, one the writer, the other the editor. Kidder shares his earliest attempts to get his work accepted at The Atlantic magazine under the guidance and perseverance of Todd, the editor assigned to him. Over the years, Todd has worked with Kidder on nonfiction magazine pieces, nonfiction books published by Atlantic Press, and his novel, also published by the magazine.
I initially requested a review copy of this book because I thought it would be a good one for writers, but the more I read, the more I realized Good Prose is the perfect book for anybody who likes to read. The examples of writing that both authors cite go far beyond Kidder’s own work, and the table of contents should interest anyone who loves to read fiction or nonfiction, newspapers or magazines. Take a look:
- Beyond Accuracy
- The Problem of Style
- Art and Commerce
- Being Edited and Editing
For those of us who love to read and not only read, but love to talk about what we’ve just read, Kidder and Todd have written a litmus test for recognizing good writing. What makes this book so appealing is its accessibility. One does not need an academic background to sit down and become thoroughly engrossed. Within each chapter are quotes and references from a wide variety of books and authors; the content of the Index is impressive.
The authors address the profusion of Internet blogs, written in breezy, lighthearted styles, in Chapter 6: “The new vernacular imitates spontaneity but sounds rehearsed. It has a franchised feel, like the chain restaurant that tells its patrons ‘you’re family.’” This quote is less curmudgeonly than it is cautionary of the overuse of whatever happens to be the trendy “voice” of the time.
Although the book is authored by both men, there are excerpts that are strictly each writer’s own and identified by his initials. Their relationship, as told in Chapter 8, is written with warmth and honesty. From the “Introduction” to the “Notes on Usage,” no part of Good Prose is unimportant. I’m sure any number of future writers will benefit from Good Prose, but I’ll bet an even larger number of people will benefit by becoming better readers. Every person belonging to a book club should have a copy of this book, and don’t be surprised if you turn back to at least parts of Good Prose before you’re halfway through the next book you read. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Tracy Kidder: Strength in What Remains; Mountains Beyond Mountains; House; Among School Children; My Detatchment A Memoir; The Soul of a New Machine; Home Town; The Road to Yuba City.
Also available by Richard Todd: The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity.