Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd weave amusing stories of the writing life with technical advice into “Good Prose, The Art of Nonfiction”. The book is subtitled “stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing” and is precisely that, a collection of engaging anecdotes interspersed with technical and artistic instruction. It is collaboratively written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Kidder and his long-time editor Todd. The book of 195 pages is available at the Windham Public Library.
The book is designed as a text exposing how critical decisions are made, such as point of view and tense in which a nonfiction story will be presented. Pace and texture, the question of chronology, linear or otherwise are judgments that the author and editor must make to create a readable and informative piece. Chapter headings such as “Beginnings”, “Narratives” and “The Problem of Style” gained my attention as a writer trying to exercise the craft.
Technique and artistic method aside, the personalities of the two authors shine through making the book far more than a dry text. In italicized back of the hand asides they each testify to how they saw the other performing his job, making the reader a privileged confidant. And no holds are barred. For example, when asked by the writer what was wrong with his article the editor replied: “Well, first of all, the first sentence.” The result is a text that reads more like a memoir. I’m not a fan of the modern memoir. I find it’s often a book written by someone whose tweets strain their writing, or a ghost-written piece about someone who strains my attention. However the chronicling of Kidder’s success as a writer, Todd’s as an editor and their interdependence is compelling reading.
The authors present samples of the work of Jonathan Harr (A Civil Action), John Mcphee (Encounters with the Archdruid and A Sense of Where You Are) and Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild) among others. I selected this book with the hope of gaining an understanding of the writing process. I got that and more including a reading list and good entertainment.