Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

Good Prose imageBrief Summary: Two friends, a writer and his editor, talk about what makes good writing, and in doing so they present an intimate view into why writers love what they do.

The Tsundoku Scale: Top of the Pile, 9 out of 10.

The Good: This is not a book I would have ever chosen without a recommendation, but it is a book I am truly grateful to have read. Good Prose is the first true conversation I have ever seen in book form. It flows, like a conversation between two old friends that begins at one point and slowly climbs the mountain of connected ideas to end at another higher point where one can survey the land that they have climbed, and shake their head in amazement at how they’ve gotten so far. The book begins as a book supposedly on style and grammar, but it ends up being part essay/memoir, using “good prose” to take a deeper look into the writer’s connection to writing. I love the candid, funny stories that sprout throughout the narrative from how Tracy Kidder once spent almost half a year writing one newspaper article because The Atlantic thought it was too terrible to publish, to how Kidder and Richard Todd have a ritual of reading the entire almost complete book as part of their editing process. This is not in anyways a grammar lesson (although you do learn a lot about grammar); this is a memoir on writing and I have never enjoyed more learning how to write, or more exactly (as the book truly seems to be getting at), learning how to see the inner joy in writing.

The Bad: I absolutely loved this book, and it certainly connected with me, but I am not really sure how much it’s really a book. This is the kind of book one can only write when one’s been established, and all the rules of what kind of book sells goes out the window. Good Prose goes from grammar rules, to essays on writing style, to memoirs without much order that I can see—and while, as I said before, it grows like a conversation (which I enjoyed), it may be difficult or frustrating for some to read. Also, it is often unclear whether it is Kidder or Todd that is speaking at certain points in the book, which makes it harder to truly appreciate each’s own unique character. The one part that I really did not like in the book, however, was that it went to a list of boring grammar rules at the very end. As I said before, this is not by any means a grammar book, and it was annoying, and a little disappointing, to see the authors try to force the book’s flow back to where it started in the end of the book.

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