Book By: Verlyn Klinkenborg
Review By: Mark Duslak
University of South Florida
Students are bombarded by tweets, texts, and tidbits of writing—all vying for their attention. In my experience, the messages that tend to win out are usually written with clarity and brevity in a style that piques interest. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg elucidates those often mercurial elements of writing. On topic alone, this work appears to be valuable to advisors seeking to improve their written communication—a skill purported to have positive effects on advising (Steele and Carter 2002).
Klinkenborg demonstrates that brevity and clarity do not equate to simplicity. The premise of Several Short Sentences About Writing is that one can improve his or her writing by examining sentences individually. While appearing ostensibly simple, the book quickly delves into the vast complexities hidden in even the simplest of sentences. This book is diametrically opposite to the well-worn “10 steps to writing better” approach other books have taken in terms of its structure, scope, and sequence. The majority of the book is written in a style of prose that flexes and playfully mocks the rules of grammar and syntax. This deviation from convention could be viewed as sophisticated and thought-provoking by some; others could find it annoying or frustrating. The author’s playfulness in style combined with the sheer density of information necessitates the reader’s full attention. This effort is rewarded by the joy of discovering insights hidden throughout the sentences.
The book targets writers of all styles and is loosely divided into three main sections. The first section exposits the main premise of the book though implicit and explicit approaches. The second section of the book presents exemplar writing pieces. Some pieces are accompanied by reflective questions while others challenge readers to generate their own questions. The last portion of the book showcases errors made by students of the author. This section is stylistically the easiest to process and is the closest the ever book ventures to providing direct writing tips. Some themes elaborated throughout the work are: paying attention to detail, striving for brevity and clarity, eliminating preconceived notions, understanding the implicit and explicit contents of a sentence, and developing one’s writing style.
While one’s email away message is unlikely to win a Pulitzer Prize, there remain compelling reasons for advisors to take the time to improving their writing. The strength of this book may turn some off—it is a fresh antithetical rebuttal to the straightforward rules-based approaches found in Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style (2009) or the APA Publication Guidelines (2010). Those seeking a quick reference book on writing should probably consider other titles. The adage, “you get what you put in” applies to this work. This book most likely improve the writing of those willing to dedicate the time and focus to distill all it has to offer. Several Short Sentences About Writing is a great addition for advisors passionate about the art of writing who are willing to accept the challenge of an unorthodox manner of presentation.
Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. (2010). Washington, DC : American Psychological Association, c2010.
Steele, G. and Carter, A. (2002, December).Managing electronic communication technologies for more effective advising. The Academic Advising News, 25(4). Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Managing-Electronic-Communication-Technologies-for-More-Effective-Advising.aspx
Strunk, W., & White, E. B. (2009). The elements of style / by William Strunk Jr. ; with revisions, an introduction, and a chapter on writing by E.B. White. New York : Pearson Longman, c2009.
Several Short Sentences About Writing. (2012). Book by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Review by Mark Duslak. New York: Vintage Books (Random House). 220pp. $15.00, (Paperback). ISBN #978-0-307-27941-5.