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Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

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Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lif Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lifelong association. Before long, Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, the first book the two worked on together, had won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a heady moment, but for Kidder and Todd it was only the beginning of an education in the art of nonfiction. Good Prose explores three major nonfiction forms: narratives, essays, and memoirs. Kidder and Todd draw candidly, sometimes comically, on their own experience—their mistakes as well as accomplishments—to demonstrate the pragmatic ways in which creative problems get solved. They also turn to the works of a wide range of writers, novelists as well as nonfiction writers, for models and instruction. They talk about narrative strategies (and about how to find a story, sometimes in surprising places), about the ethical challenges of nonfiction, and about the realities of making a living as a writer. They offer some tart and emphatic opinions on the current state of language. And they take a clear stand against playing loose with the facts. Their advice is always grounded in the practical world of writing and publishing. Good Prose—like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style—is a succinct, authoritative, and entertaining arbiter of standards in contemporary writing, offering guidance for the professional writer and the beginner alike. This wise and useful book is the perfect companion for anyone who loves to read good books and longs to write one.


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Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lif Good Prose is an inspiring book about writing—about the creation of good prose—and the record of a warm and productive literary friendship. The story begins in 1973, in the offices of The Atlantic Monthly, in Boston, where a young freelance writer named Tracy Kidder came looking for an assignment. Richard Todd was the editor who encouraged him. From that article grew a lifelong association. Before long, Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine, the first book the two worked on together, had won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a heady moment, but for Kidder and Todd it was only the beginning of an education in the art of nonfiction. Good Prose explores three major nonfiction forms: narratives, essays, and memoirs. Kidder and Todd draw candidly, sometimes comically, on their own experience—their mistakes as well as accomplishments—to demonstrate the pragmatic ways in which creative problems get solved. They also turn to the works of a wide range of writers, novelists as well as nonfiction writers, for models and instruction. They talk about narrative strategies (and about how to find a story, sometimes in surprising places), about the ethical challenges of nonfiction, and about the realities of making a living as a writer. They offer some tart and emphatic opinions on the current state of language. And they take a clear stand against playing loose with the facts. Their advice is always grounded in the practical world of writing and publishing. Good Prose—like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style—is a succinct, authoritative, and entertaining arbiter of standards in contemporary writing, offering guidance for the professional writer and the beginner alike. This wise and useful book is the perfect companion for anyone who loves to read good books and longs to write one.

30 review for Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Kelleher

    This short work is not "Everything You Need to Know About Writing." Nor is it a didactic set of rules in the manner of Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." Even less is it a collection of Miss Grundy's scoldings. Rather, it is a seminar-like rumination by an author and editor, drawn from their 40 years of collaboration, on things they deem worth ruminating about. Read it during a Sunday afternoon while sipping a beer or a claret and you will be entertained and enriched. I will mention just a This short work is not "Everything You Need to Know About Writing." Nor is it a didactic set of rules in the manner of Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style." Even less is it a collection of Miss Grundy's scoldings. Rather, it is a seminar-like rumination by an author and editor, drawn from their 40 years of collaboration, on things they deem worth ruminating about. Read it during a Sunday afternoon while sipping a beer or a claret and you will be entertained and enriched. I will mention just a few of the insights that are enriching. Narrative point of view: first person or third? Kidder and Todd make explicit what we instinctively understood but could never before express. "The smaller the canvass, the more intrusive the first person is likely to be." A large background--travel writing, for example--makes "I" a suitable point of view. But for close-in, intimate focus, "I" gets in the way, and distracts. "Fact" and "Truth" in non-fiction. The best essay I have ever seen on this topic. Begin with "the facts". They objectively exist, and they form the constraint within which the writer must function. They must NEVER be made up, or the essence of the art of nonficition has been compromised. It is self-evident that perfect accuracy is not practical. In a civil trial, the standard of proof is "more likely than not." We hope the non-fiction writer has a higher standard, but in any case, he must do his best. "Truth." As every philosopher and every trial lawyer knows, "truth" is subjective in the sense that the writer is the intermediary between the copious "facts" and the reader. It is the writer's job to select--to find and convey meaning. That emphatically does NOT mean that all truths are equal, as many ignorant post-modernists claim. The authors illustrate with an anecdote from Kidder's chronicle of a year spent in a fifth-grade classroom, "Among Children." The most dramatic event of the year occurred when the teacher lost her temper at a delinquent student. But that factually-true episode did not convey the "truth" about the kind and empathetic teacher. So it was omitted from the book, and replaced with another less dramatic one in which she came to understand a struggling student who had failed to turn in a science project. The subjective nature of truth does not absolve the writer of anything, Kidder and Todd insist. To the contrary, it imposes the highest responsibility. Clarity vs. simplicity. For a lifetime, I have tried to obey Strunk and White's injunction to "omit needless words." This was fortified by a career of writing courtroom briefs, where crispness is particularly valued. Kidder and Todd likewise treat clarity as the highest virtue, but "clarity doesn't always mean brevity or simplicity." They illustrate with a flavorful meandering but clear passage from Nabokov. Usage. A delightful short essay. Largely a matter of taste, they concede, but there is good and bad taste. Among the usages they want expunged: "going forward" "iconic" "proactive" "low-hanging fruit" "tipping point" "preternatural" "quintessential" "grassroots" "groundswell" "a little help from my friends" "make my day" "it is what it is" "Im just sayin'. " They do not include my No. 1 candidate for oblivion, the most ignorant, illiterate, and useless locution in modern language: "I was like..." for "I said..." The second edition will include it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. This joint endeavor from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd is a great guide for writers, and for readers/thinkers. Structured around the three types or nonfiction, the authors devote a chapter to narratives, memoirs, and essays. These form chapters pull several quotes and exam We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. This joint endeavor from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd is a great guide for writers, and for readers/thinkers. Structured around the three types or nonfiction, the authors devote a chapter to narratives, memoirs, and essays. These form chapters pull several quotes and examples, and critical analysis, yet all very readable. My favorite chapter, "Being Edited and Editing", was a fascinating mirror view from both sides of the process. Because these two have worked together for so long, they know each other's styles so intimately, anticipating edits, styles. It is an intriguing peek into both of their minds.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Wanna-be writers like me are always looking for good books on good writing. I love Tracy Kidder’s writing and, if Richard Todd is, indeed, Kidder’s long-time editor, then he is also on my Good Boy list. So I thus fell into that old trap of Anticipating and Having Expectations that so often disappoints. I tell you this so you won’t Anticipate and Expect, too. This is a lovely book, a lovely story of friendship and learning to work together, and learning to write and learning to edit, but it is no Wanna-be writers like me are always looking for good books on good writing. I love Tracy Kidder’s writing and, if Richard Todd is, indeed, Kidder’s long-time editor, then he is also on my Good Boy list. So I thus fell into that old trap of Anticipating and Having Expectations that so often disappoints. I tell you this so you won’t Anticipate and Expect, too. This is a lovely book, a lovely story of friendship and learning to work together, and learning to write and learning to edit, but it is not much of a book about how to write well. That isn’t to say that this book isn’t full of ideas about how to write well, but put it down if it’s an authoritative how-to book that you are seeking. Lots of stories that will make you smile if you’ve read much Kidder but that’s really it. I’m going to really be daring here---as I step out on a thin limb---and assert that in my (VH) opinion what this book could have used is a good editor. And a better title. Just my two cents as a reader. And let me close by using an old psychological technique of Blaming the Victim: had this been a better how-to book, perhaps I could now be writing a better review of this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    John

    Wasn't sure what to expect here. In case that's the same for you, it's basically alternating points-of-view: Kidder's story of his life as a writer, aling with observations of Kidder as a writer, by his longtime editor/boss, Todd. Overall, it was worthwhile (clearing one of my older TBR items). However, I wasn't a fan of the long italicized sections by Kidder. Todd-on-Kidder didn't interest me as much as Todd's final chapter, focusing more on his own story. I'm far from PC, but was a bit overwhel Wasn't sure what to expect here. In case that's the same for you, it's basically alternating points-of-view: Kidder's story of his life as a writer, aling with observations of Kidder as a writer, by his longtime editor/boss, Todd. Overall, it was worthwhile (clearing one of my older TBR items). However, I wasn't a fan of the long italicized sections by Kidder. Todd-on-Kidder didn't interest me as much as Todd's final chapter, focusing more on his own story. I'm far from PC, but was a bit overwhelmed by the "(white) boys' club" thing that was publishing back in the day. Recommended both for being a product of its time, as well as the writing advice itself.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dewitt

    I enjoyed Kidder-and-Todd’s GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION (definitely five stars), where they argue “that the publishing industry is not organized to reward editors who spend a lot of time on books,” but I am surprised that they have nothing to say about MFA programs. “A writer should try to involve the editor early in the process,” they advise. “You don’t want a perfunctory involvement. You want investment.” This sounds to me like Good MFA Mentoring. They also state: “Even those who have be I enjoyed Kidder-and-Todd’s GOOD PROSE: THE ART OF NONFICTION (definitely five stars), where they argue “that the publishing industry is not organized to reward editors who spend a lot of time on books,” but I am surprised that they have nothing to say about MFA programs. “A writer should try to involve the editor early in the process,” they advise. “You don’t want a perfunctory involvement. You want investment.” This sounds to me like Good MFA Mentoring. They also state: “Even those who have been trained in a language of distance and irony toward everything institutional, and especially toward government, must feel from time to time that there is something that justifies thinking in Orwell’s terms….writers live most fully when their work moves beyond performance, beyond entertainment or information, beyond pleasing audience and editor, when it does all that and yet represents their most important beliefs.” The emphasis on “pleasing” brings to mind MY FAIR LADY with the writer Eliza Doolittle and the editor Henry Higgins.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    What a difficult challenge one sets oneself, when one creates something about the very medium in which one is working. To give a lecture on public speaking is to invite criticism. So too to write about non-fiction. And how much bigger the target one becomes when one already has a name, such as that of Tracey Kidder whose reputation was established by the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Soul of a New Machine". So yeah, this shit better be good. And it is. Holy crap, Kidder can write. And not just write pr What a difficult challenge one sets oneself, when one creates something about the very medium in which one is working. To give a lecture on public speaking is to invite criticism. So too to write about non-fiction. And how much bigger the target one becomes when one already has a name, such as that of Tracey Kidder whose reputation was established by the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Soul of a New Machine". So yeah, this shit better be good. And it is. Holy crap, Kidder can write. And not just write prettily, but with a gentle elegance like a Shaker cabinet. Everything in its place, nothing for ostentation, and in support of something deeper and glorious. Because while you might note "gosh, that was well said", it's the good THINKING that'll leave you admiring this book. How much of the author should one insert? Where's the line between fiction and "reshaping"? What makes the essay form special, yet so difficult? To read "Good Prose" is to see through the eyes of the author and editor as they make the thousands of decisions, large and small, which shape and create the eventual piece. The topics are brought home with references to popular nonfiction pieces from several different decades, and by the exploration of Kidder's own creative process. Kidder's had a long and close relationship with his editor (and co-author on this book), Richard Todd. Their history is slowly revealed, topic by topic, as the book unfolds and it's this relationship that left me thinking the most about the book after I'd returned it to the shelf. Alcohol, dependency, intrusion, compassion ... a lot of uncommon and unprofessional ingredients but outputs that are also uncommon yet highly professional. Kidder, the young pup crashing thoughtlessly into the elder tweedy editor ... a familiar enough story, yet it's revealed near the end that Todd is only 5 years older than Kidder! The story of their relationship, the meat of the editorial chapter, is intriguing, disturbing, and incomplete, and ultimately forms the lingering aftertaste of this fine piece of work.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Lennon

    I'll admit that I am a die-hard Tracy Kidder fan and he never disappoints. The fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize once and has written several other exceptional books, most categorized as narrative nonfiction, drew me instantly to his new book with Richard Todd on the art of nonfiction writing. Here I was combing the bookstore shelves for books to expand my own perspectives and approaches on my writing and voila Kidder's book appears. This is an advice book not a how to per se. It provides persp I'll admit that I am a die-hard Tracy Kidder fan and he never disappoints. The fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize once and has written several other exceptional books, most categorized as narrative nonfiction, drew me instantly to his new book with Richard Todd on the art of nonfiction writing. Here I was combing the bookstore shelves for books to expand my own perspectives and approaches on my writing and voila Kidder's book appears. This is an advice book not a how to per se. It provides perspectives and tactics for approaching nonfiction writing of many types: magazine articles (considered journalism), memoirs, books, and even blogs. It's a book about how to reach the reader, how to gain their trust, how to tell the story without compromising the facts, how to reveal the character of the people written about, and how to create and sustain voice. It's beautifully enriched by wonderful prose examples by the greats. Even though Kidder and Todd declare it's a book about nonfiction, there sure was a lot that fiction writers would benefit from. Whatever it takes to build the story, characters, time frame/flow, and voice in narrative nonfiction is part and parcel of fiction. The authors lift the veil on issues around editing and the publishing business, sharing their long history together working at The Atlantic Monthly and writing books. The reader is entranced by their stories of growth as writers, particularly Kidder's which often make you laugh or cringe, the impulse to gather, draft, edit and edit and edit. It depicts the essence of a positive author/editor relationship (Todd was Kidder's editor, mentor, and sounding board.) Needless to say the book is beautifully written, a smooth and engaging read, and a comfort to every writer who faces the pain and the elation that is part of the process.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Yelda Basar Moers

    Good Prose is an unconventional writing guide. I wouldn’t even call it a writing guide, it’s more of a memoir of a writing team, a writer and editor who have been working together longer than the age of most readers of this book. Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Richard Todd, a preeminent editor and a former executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly, have worked on numerous writing projects over their forty years together, including Kidder’s award-winning book The Soul of a New Good Prose is an unconventional writing guide. I wouldn’t even call it a writing guide, it’s more of a memoir of a writing team, a writer and editor who have been working together longer than the age of most readers of this book. Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Richard Todd, a preeminent editor and a former executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly, have worked on numerous writing projects over their forty years together, including Kidder’s award-winning book The Soul of a New Machine. There is no question that Kidder and Todd are masters of the nonfiction form, but as a voracious reader of writing guides, I found Good Prose to lack the consistent guidance and mentorship provided in other well-established guides such as Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Stephen King’s On Writing, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, or my favorite, Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art. This is not to say that there are not helpful chapters on writing nonfiction. In Beginnings, their first chapter, the authors introduce themselves with the following truism: To write is to talk to strangers. You want them to trust you. There are useful suggestions here. The next chapter is a study of each component of the narrative: story, point of view, characters and structure. In their discussion of story, a point of focus is the concept of revelation. The author and reader must learn something in a nonfiction narrative. Revelation is what transforms an event into a story. For characters, I found this to be most helpful: give telling details (mere description won’t vivify a statue). The authors devote a chapter each to memoirs and essays. But those are the only two forms they devote exclusive chapters to. For memoir, they share key tips: say difficult things, stick to the facts and be harder on yourself than others. For essays, a fresh idea is just as important as the essay itself, and you must make it your own. In their editing chapter, they stress the importance of rewriting, and what a privilege it is to get a second chance to make a first impression. Kidder says he generally rewrites a book ten times, top to bottom. And that it takes about three years for him to complete a book. At the end of the editing process, they read their entire book aloud. Yes, the whole thing. This can take three days. Intermixed between their writing tips are long philosophical narratives of their own personal experiences. There is great content here from true veterans in the field. And if you are seeking to fine-tune your craft, it’s worth the read. But oddly enough, I think the book could have used some more editing. The memoir parts didn’t seem to fuse with the writing-guide parts. Also, I found the tone to be too detached; I sensed that the authors felt a sort of pity for the emerging writer. The voice almost sounded like my first journalism professor at Northwestern who always seemed to talk down to the student. The tone isn’t terribly encouraging for the new writer, but maybe that’s not what it’s supposed to be. Writing guides are usually written with a lot of personality and enthusiasm, unless you are reading Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Actually, Good Prose is compared to that classic. But who wants to be reading Strunk and White on a Saturday night by the fireplace? Better to read it at the library, or at your desk with a highlighter and a lot of patience. And don’t expect much cheerleading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    I found more to agree with than disagree with here and I liked the interplay between a writer (Tracy Kidder) and his life-long editor (Richard Todd). The editor/writer relationship is a strange and intimate thing; difficult to describe to people who haven't lived it. Readers of this book should know -- if the authors haven't made it perfectly clear -- that Kidder and Todd worked under rarefied and practically extinct circumstances. They have a lot to tell us about the art of nonfiction, but noth I found more to agree with than disagree with here and I liked the interplay between a writer (Tracy Kidder) and his life-long editor (Richard Todd). The editor/writer relationship is a strange and intimate thing; difficult to describe to people who haven't lived it. Readers of this book should know -- if the authors haven't made it perfectly clear -- that Kidder and Todd worked under rarefied and practically extinct circumstances. They have a lot to tell us about the art of nonfiction, but nothing of the haste of producing nonfiction today, because they've never known haste, and it seems they hold hurriers (i.e., people on deadlines) apart in a different and (as I took it) less regarded space. Just about everyone currently employed in writing and editing nonfiction today (from the Atlantic and New Yorker on down to the constantly-refreshed blogs) has a very different experience of working and the writing life than these two men ever did. I liked the last two chapters best -- one, "Art and Commerce," about how a writer comes to regard himself or herself and his or her work, the emotional lows involved in comparing oneself to others, the lessons contained in tepid responses, bad reviews, etc. And the chapter after that, (chapter 8) about being edited (as a writer) and being the editor, imparts some significant lessons about how to handle that relationship from either end. When I finished the book, my main impression was that most people who read "Good Prose" will never experience the sort of deep-editing relationship these two men enjoyed. I count myself very lucky to have known and worked with people who edited my work with such skill and, for the most part, excellent bedside manners.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Sorensen

    Disclaimer: I won this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program. On one level this book is an instructional manual on how to write and edit non-fiction books and magazine articles. Kidder and Todd break down how to create non-friction prose step-by-step, from inception to finished product. This is a view of what a well organized team of editor and writer can achieve when they work hard together. It will help the new writers starting out, but will also help the established writers understa Disclaimer: I won this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program. On one level this book is an instructional manual on how to write and edit non-fiction books and magazine articles. Kidder and Todd break down how to create non-friction prose step-by-step, from inception to finished product. This is a view of what a well organized team of editor and writer can achieve when they work hard together. It will help the new writers starting out, but will also help the established writers understand the role the editor can have in their career. This book give a wealthy of good advice. However, on a second more important level, this book is a memoir. It is the story of two men, Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, that have grown together as a team of prose creators. This book gives an in depth look at their professional relationship from it's early start and follows it's development into friendship and a well run unit. Good Prose is a book that can be enjoyed by any reader interested in the creative process. We get a view of how non-fiction begins at the idea level and, through the editing process,ends up a finished, publishable product. We get to look into the minds of these two men and see how a good team can create something so magical as a well written book and see why non-fiction can be every bit as entertaining as fiction. A very thoughtful, enjoyable and educational read for any one who truly loves the creative process. Plus it makes me want to pick up more books written by both men.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    I plan to purchase this as a writing reference. I would prefer they used more examples from sources who are not white males, but the advice and instruction provided here is valuable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Davie

    It's as Kidder says on the cover: "Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing". My Take Kidder says "it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them. The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff. A car chase is not required." While it's aimed primarily at writers of nonfiction, it's worth reading for anyone interested in writing whether it's fiction, no It's as Kidder says on the cover: "Stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing". My Take Kidder says "it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them. The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff. A car chase is not required." While it's aimed primarily at writers of nonfiction, it's worth reading for anyone interested in writing whether it's fiction, nonfiction, or simply a casual history. It's something of an autobiography on Kidder, dipping into highlights and low points of how he began writing, how he continued with Todd's aid as an editor, their friendship, and using his own published works to demonstrate stumbling blocks he encountered. Along the way, he touches on starting your book, what goes into a book with narratives, points-of-view, settings that "tell what is at issue---what a character is trying to do, what a character fears or is trying to hide, hopes to gain or stands to lose, what a character is up against." The cautions and concerns of writing memoirs and essays. There's an amazing analysis of how describing Miss Brooke's appearance provides a wealth of background information. Kidder then provides a counter to this wealth with his "telling details" with but a few words---and each appeals to me. "…if you described not the wart but how the character covers it when he's nervous." I love how Kidder wants us to "wait for the moment when we need to know her age … as a potentially significant fact". Painting an image of someone for "a book or a detailed and subtle magazine pice to portraying a human being, you are hoping that the reader will It's a different definition for POV as "the place from which a writer listens in and watches. Choosing one place over another determines what can and can't be seen, what minds can and can't be entered" with "the choice … affecting the tone, the author's apparent attitude toward the events and people of a story…" "A place to stand … a way to think and feel." "The world for the nonfiction writer is not a kit full of endlessly interesting parts waiting to be assembled, a garden of flowers waiting to be picked and arranged." And, yes, Kidder does address what he calls the "New Vernacular", the contemporary prose of the Internet including, LOL, the OMG, "whatever", "duh", and more as he slides into "Institutionalese" "concealing more than it reveals", metaphors, similes, and the dreaded clichés. Kidder also touches on the marketing writers are told they must do from branding to platforms to book proposals to marketing plans, but the most practical advice is to think as a writer while writing the book and to see the writing as a commodity, a product when it's published. Ooh, I liked this one too…"Write the way you talk on your best day. Write the way you would like to talk." The Cover The cover is clever as an old wooden desk with a deep umber background with three hardcover books stacked end-on to us with the authors' names floating on top of the pages. They're well-used books with bookmarks, a loose page, and well-worn corners. I like the metaphor of the red pencil lying on top. Every word of the title, the sub-title, and the tagline are to the point, as it's all about Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    I've enjoyed several of Tracy Kidder's books and heard him give a very interesting talk about his writing methods, so I had high hopes for this, but was somewhat disappointed. He makes a big deal early on how the non-fiction writer "can't pass off invention as facts" but then praises Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which does exactly that. I don't get it, particularly for current events type reporting, not memoir or essay or whatever. There are still good tidbits of advice. My favorite was I've enjoyed several of Tracy Kidder's books and heard him give a very interesting talk about his writing methods, so I had high hopes for this, but was somewhat disappointed. He makes a big deal early on how the non-fiction writer "can't pass off invention as facts" but then praises Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which does exactly that. I don't get it, particularly for current events type reporting, not memoir or essay or whatever. There are still good tidbits of advice. My favorite was "Revelation, someone's learning something, is what transforms event into story." He lists numerous other books on writing including:

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    This is about the art of writing non-fiction, written by the long time duo of Tracy Kidder (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and his long suffering and brilliant editor, Richard Todd. While it's best suited to writers, as an avid reader, I found this insiders look into a craft that I greatly admire but cannot hope to try my hand at extremely interesting. These guys have decades of stories to tell, and plenty of wisdom to share. Many of the books they have mentioned in this book of theirs have now been a This is about the art of writing non-fiction, written by the long time duo of Tracy Kidder (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and his long suffering and brilliant editor, Richard Todd. While it's best suited to writers, as an avid reader, I found this insiders look into a craft that I greatly admire but cannot hope to try my hand at extremely interesting. These guys have decades of stories to tell, and plenty of wisdom to share. Many of the books they have mentioned in this book of theirs have now been added to my TBR list as well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    One of the most helpful books I've ever read on non-fiction, creative writing. The authors are a writer and editor team who worked for years and talked for years on good writing. Definitely will be referencing this book again. One of the most helpful books I've ever read on non-fiction, creative writing. The authors are a writer and editor team who worked for years and talked for years on good writing. Definitely will be referencing this book again.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Holtzclaw

    i can't believe i read the whole thing i can't believe i read the whole thing

  17. 4 out of 5

    A. _____

    Good Prose is a good book on non-fiction writing and an excellent book on the relationship between Kidder and Todd.  As someone who had great working relationships with her peers (though never a boss!) I appreciated reading about their collaboration and friendship. The chapter on editing and being edited is both insightful and delightful. This is not a how-to book or a strict guide on what and when to write. It reads like an interesting (and often humorous) podcast on writing by two people very Good Prose is a good book on non-fiction writing and an excellent book on the relationship between Kidder and Todd.  As someone who had great working relationships with her peers (though never a boss!) I appreciated reading about their collaboration and friendship. The chapter on editing and being edited is both insightful and delightful. This is not a how-to book or a strict guide on what and when to write. It reads like an interesting (and often humorous) podcast on writing by two people very familiar with each other’s work. I appreciate that they pull from their own experiences and that they maintain separate voices and identities throughout, so we know who is giving the advice and how they arrived at it. The book deals mostly with broader issues with nonfiction (structure, fact, truth, style) and not the smaller land narrower concerns of commas and semicolons. But the last chapter has notes on word usage, and here are two of my favourites: “Confusion between “lie” and “lay”. Emerson was fighting the battle 150 years ago, and nothing has changed. “Lie” is transitive, “lay” intransitive. “I lie down.” “I lay my body down.” Even in speech, one should get this right. Remember Bob Dylan’s lyric: “Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed.” Remember it because it’s wrong, even though it is sexier his way.” “Who” and “whom” confusion. In speech one can always use “who” when in doubt. It is better to be wrong and informal than wrong and pompous.” Good Prose is well written, easy to read, insightful, and it is never full of its own importance. Phillip Lopate's To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary NonfictionTo Show and to Tell is perhaps more useful than this book, but Good Prose makes a fine addition to any “books about writing” shelf.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Well written prose on writing prose, the main thing I took away from reading this is that an author needs a good editor, and an editor must need a whole lot of patience. Aside from the writing advice alot of other non-fiction authors are mentioned along with some interesting books I plan to look for.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lecy Beth

    This book was packed full of helpful information about how to make good prose, in all its forms. I am definitely going to need a physical copy of this for my writing bookshelf.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melvin Marsh, M.S.

    Kidder and Todd but together a book about writing non-fiction. It goes over several types of non-fiction although I am not sure if the division is needed as some of the advice is capable of being used for any form of non-fiction or even fiction. I've read better. I've read worse. Kidder and Todd but together a book about writing non-fiction. It goes over several types of non-fiction although I am not sure if the division is needed as some of the advice is capable of being used for any form of non-fiction or even fiction. I've read better. I've read worse.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Brief 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 poin Brief 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. Please check out TsundokuReviews.wordpress.com for more great reviews!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Reid

    Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, January 2013) is a volume about what makes nonfiction great. Using their own experiences as a writer of nonfiction (Tracy Kidder, bestselling author) and an editor of creative nonfiction (Richard Todd, Atlantic editor), the two friends provide a compelling tale of what makes good writing good, and what makes a good writer a good writer, covering everything from how to begin and how to structure a narrative to the m Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, January 2013) is a volume about what makes nonfiction great. Using their own experiences as a writer of nonfiction (Tracy Kidder, bestselling author) and an editor of creative nonfiction (Richard Todd, Atlantic editor), the two friends provide a compelling tale of what makes good writing good, and what makes a good writer a good writer, covering everything from how to begin and how to structure a narrative to the more complicated specifics of memoirs, essays, style, and writing as job in today’s society. I once again had the disadvantage of never having read the authors who wrote this book, but it did not impact my enjoyment of it. I loved their discussions of the important aspects of story, point of view, how to discuss characters, and how to structure a creative nonfiction work. I really enjoy reading nonfiction that is well done, and so I enjoyed reading Kidder and Todd’s look at what makes it so. When I finished reading it at the beginning of January, I felt much more enthusiastic than I do now, almost a month after the fact. Was it a forgettable volume, or have the past weeks of family flu and other distractions simply dimmed my memory of the experience of reading it? I don’t know, but since I have it on my shelf, I may revisit it again in the future to see what I think about it after I read some more compelling nonfiction. Note: I received a complimentary copy of Good Prose from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. More On my blog

  23. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    It's no surprise that this is a well-written book, filled with good examples and valuable advice. Like many books about writing well, it has the added benefit of helping one read with insight. More atypically, this book also contains some useful thoughts about the increasingly forgotten process of editing and being edited. Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and his longtime editor at the Atlantic Magazine, Richard Todd, describe the process of writing nonfiction narratives, essays, and memoi It's no surprise that this is a well-written book, filled with good examples and valuable advice. Like many books about writing well, it has the added benefit of helping one read with insight. More atypically, this book also contains some useful thoughts about the increasingly forgotten process of editing and being edited. Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and his longtime editor at the Atlantic Magazine, Richard Todd, describe the process of writing nonfiction narratives, essays, and memoirs. Each has its own rules, but each requires similar judgements. They show the real difficulty of such writing is not in the commas or gerunds, but in the overall structure of the piece. One of their constant refrains is the necessity of keeping "some things big and some things small," of always remembering that every written line must keep to the proportions and purpose of the story. They also emphasize the value of clear chronology if at all possible. They discuss how the author should present themselves, in a clear first person or in limited third person modes or in an omniscient mode. Their ultimate virtue, and their ultimate goal as a writer and an editor, is clarity. The reader is always flailing, so the author must constantly be their guide. As the Anthony Trollope quote that prefaces the book says, "Our doctrine is, that the author and the reader should move along in full confidence with each other." Like most writing books, this one makes writing seem a daunting task, one that brings more heartache and headache than just about any other occupation. It also makes the task seem exciting and worthwhile.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    I started reading this book in one location and finished it in another. Soon after starting it, I anticipated that it was going to be a "fun read," since I recognized many lessons as existing in some form in other books I've read. This assumption misled me into thinking I could read the book for enjoyment alone. I read at least one-fourth of the book that way and then put it down while I changed my location (from FL to ME). In Maine, I picked the book up again, but my bookmark had fallen out. Wh I started reading this book in one location and finished it in another. Soon after starting it, I anticipated that it was going to be a "fun read," since I recognized many lessons as existing in some form in other books I've read. This assumption misled me into thinking I could read the book for enjoyment alone. I read at least one-fourth of the book that way and then put it down while I changed my location (from FL to ME). In Maine, I picked the book up again, but my bookmark had fallen out. When I couldn't identify my place, I started reading again from the beginning, this time more carefully. This time I picked up on the nuances that differentiate this book from anything I thought I'd read before. Now finished, I count fifty-four sticky flags by sentences and paragraphs I will revisit for reassurance, for laughs, for rethinking, for reminding. Having experienced both the editing life and the writing life, I enjoyed identifying with both authors (Kidder and Todd) throughout the book, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively, but always strongly. They have had an unusual (as Todd notes, perhaps unique) writing/editing relationship, and the evidence of that, both in what they choose to say and how they say it, makes their book special indeed. Why four stars, not five? I admit to being torn, and worry that a writer's and/or an editor's snit is working inside me to prevent adding that last star. But maybe it's more serious, more justifiable than a snit. I haven't read others' reviews yet, and doing so will help me figure this out. In any event, a very good book!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    A quick review for a quick read. My e-copy for "Good Prose" was about 149 pages and while it was brief, the read itself didn't feel that way as it was packed with experiences narrated between author Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. I wouldn't say this is a traditional "guide" to writing, but rather a reflection of the experiences, narratives perused, and knowledge that the two have on certain dimensions of writing non-fiction in any realm. Whether it's starting a particular narrative, r A quick review for a quick read. My e-copy for "Good Prose" was about 149 pages and while it was brief, the read itself didn't feel that way as it was packed with experiences narrated between author Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. I wouldn't say this is a traditional "guide" to writing, but rather a reflection of the experiences, narratives perused, and knowledge that the two have on certain dimensions of writing non-fiction in any realm. Whether it's starting a particular narrative, researching, bringing personal stories to the page via character and place, writing an essay, or getting down to the bare bones and editing to an extent, Kidder and Todd examine these in some terms through the narrative. I'll admit it wasn't as deep as I was expecting, and at times, the number of references and the nature of the prose itself bogged down the flow of the work a little more than I would've liked. Still, I found it a valuable read, and it was most certainly worth taking a look at not only some of the narratives they reference in text (some references to Kidder's own work, including one I've read before - "Mountains Beyond Mountains"), but also worth looking into what works they reference as helpful guides to writing in general. Overall: 3/5

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Rollins

    I enjoyed reading the back and forth between writer and editor that went on in this book. It gave me a peak at how the process works sometimes. As I writer I appreciated Mr. Todd's(editor)acknowledgement that to change the words himself is to change the voice. I often cringe when reading something that I have written that has had the wording change. The change is almost always awkward and Todd explains why. Rather he offers more of a give and take approach to his authors. This process seems to t I enjoyed reading the back and forth between writer and editor that went on in this book. It gave me a peak at how the process works sometimes. As I writer I appreciated Mr. Todd's(editor)acknowledgement that to change the words himself is to change the voice. I often cringe when reading something that I have written that has had the wording change. The change is almost always awkward and Todd explains why. Rather he offers more of a give and take approach to his authors. This process seems to take time something we seem unable to stop for these days. I have never been fond of editors but even I have noticed that the Kindle publishing world is degrading the tone of language. Turns out editors are useful after all. Maybe not in the role I imagined they imagined for themselves but certainly in the role that Mr. Todd prescribes for himself. I also found the agonizing process Mr. Kidder puts himself through enlightening. Writing is hard work. My own writing seems to be more of the off the cuff blog type but I would love to see what would happen if I began to tediously rewrite. This book also made me want to read more works that have been tediously rewritten.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    Thank you to Random House for providing a review copy via the Goodreads First Read program. I enjoyed this book very much. I don't think I would call this a writing guide, it is more a memoir of two friends who met through writing. One became a well-known writer and the other was already a respected editor and later a writer as well. I enjoyed the interaction between Kidder and Todd as they recounted their professional and personal lives over the past 40 years. I also enjoyed reading about the en Thank you to Random House for providing a review copy via the Goodreads First Read program. I enjoyed this book very much. I don't think I would call this a writing guide, it is more a memoir of two friends who met through writing. One became a well-known writer and the other was already a respected editor and later a writer as well. I enjoyed the interaction between Kidder and Todd as they recounted their professional and personal lives over the past 40 years. I also enjoyed reading about the environment of the Atlantic Monthly in those years. I would love to learn that the offices are still housed in a Bostonian mansion, but I fear those days are long gone. The authors do provide pertinent advice for writers and I plan to read this book again for that content. This time I read for the pure enjoyment of a good read. Well worth reading. A fine contribution to the literature of both writing, editing, and friendship.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Antoinette Perez

    A very, very high-level overview of what it takes to write nonfiction well. If I wanted to create an action plan, this wouldn't be the book to help. But it's well-considered and nicely written, and there are entire passages that are truly profound. Here's one of just one of my favorite passages (and I highlighted many): "The economy of words is a wondrous system. Language is free and available to all in limitless quantities, an utterly democratic commodity. But as soon as you help yourself to thi A very, very high-level overview of what it takes to write nonfiction well. If I wanted to create an action plan, this wouldn't be the book to help. But it's well-considered and nicely written, and there are entire passages that are truly profound. Here's one of just one of my favorite passages (and I highlighted many): "The economy of words is a wondrous system. Language is free and available to all in limitless quantities, an utterly democratic commodity. But as soon as you help yourself to this bounty you can begin to trade in your own identity. A great deal of common language is borrowered without much thought from a part of the culture which may or may not represent the writer, a culture with which the writer may or may not want to be allied. Use enough words wantonly and you disappear before your own eyes. Use them well and you create yourself. This is why writers must own their language. Own your language or it will own you." SNAP BACK!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Bock

    I just finished a new book about writing, GOOD PROSE: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. This is worth a read for new writers and more established ones. Some of its gems include a chapter on point of view in creative nonfiction as well as a chapter on “Being Edited and Editing.” The work ends with an insightful chapter on usage and grammar, which includes a warning against medical, political and digital age clichés including my own pet peeve—use of “mega” and “gig I just finished a new book about writing, GOOD PROSE: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and his editor Richard Todd. This is worth a read for new writers and more established ones. Some of its gems include a chapter on point of view in creative nonfiction as well as a chapter on “Being Edited and Editing.” The work ends with an insightful chapter on usage and grammar, which includes a warning against medical, political and digital age clichés including my own pet peeve—use of “mega” and “giga” and “nano” as prefixes. The back and forth between the writer and the editor is what delighted this writer the most. We live inside our heads as writers and good editors help us take what’s inside out – freely, unwieldy at times, wildly at other times. More at www.carolinebock.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jerry Landry

    I wouldn’t necessarily call this an instructional book on writing as much as a memoir telling the story and providing anecdotes/helpful hints from two people who worked so closely together as writer and editor. In particular, the last chapter, “Being Edited and Editing,” was personally satisfying to hear them talk about the long, hard hours (weeks/months/years) that both of them put into a piece of work in their respective roles and how their process had transformed over time. I’d recommend this I wouldn’t necessarily call this an instructional book on writing as much as a memoir telling the story and providing anecdotes/helpful hints from two people who worked so closely together as writer and editor. In particular, the last chapter, “Being Edited and Editing,” was personally satisfying to hear them talk about the long, hard hours (weeks/months/years) that both of them put into a piece of work in their respective roles and how their process had transformed over time. I’d recommend this to any writer just for the simple fact that it illustrates that we don’t toil alone in, as they joked about in the book, “the terribly lonely business” of writing.

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