The Art of Nonfiction
Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Random House, $26, 224 pp.
Good prose? Do we really need yet another book filled with tips, instructions, and warnings against this or that? Only if the take on the subject is as uncommon as the one offered by this book. One of the authors, Tracy Kidder, is a Pulitzer Prize winner with an impressive line of nonfiction books to his credit, including Soul of a New Machine, House, and Among Schoolchildren. The other is his longtime editor, Richard Todd, a well-respected practitioner of the trade at the Atlantic, Houghton Mifflin, and other venues. Parts of the book are written by Kidder, parts by Todd, in a joint enterprise that mixes good sense, wide experience with the written word, and plenty of ironic reflection on the vagaries of the bookman’s world.
These “stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing,” as the subtitle has it, mark a connection that began forty years ago when Todd, a young editor at the Atlantic, met Kidder, an aspiring writer with an unpublished novel in hand. The result of their collaboration over the decades is “a practical book,” addressed “to people who care about writing, about how it gets done, about how to do it better.”
William H. Pritchard is the Henry Clay Folger Professor Emeritus of English at Amherst College. He is the author of Shelf Life: Literary Essays and Reviews (University of Massachusetts Press) among others.