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Simple & Direct

Jacques Barzun

A Rhetoric for Writers
Published by Harper & Row in 1976
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne 1997

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I read this book all the way through in two sessions in two days. It is rare for any book to hold my attention so strongly, but for a book on writing to do so is extraordinary. Only a book that is simple and direct could have done so, attesting that Barzun writes on a complex subject in a style that is the epitome of the intent of his book.

Whether you're interested in "which words to use," "what words to put next," or "what impression will it make?" this book's for you. Those are the headings for Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Perhaps it's "what do I want to say?" that perplexes you. Here's a quote from Chapter 4 which addresses Meaning:

As a great French stylist has said: "The fundamental rule of style is to keep solely in view the thought one wants to convey." And he added ironically, "One must therefore have a thought to start with."

Barzun says that one doesn't start with a "well-shaped thought, trimmed and polished, but with an intent perhaps with several, overlapping and conflicting." Here is a master of his art sharing with us the tools of his trade, both in content, what he writes about, and in process, by the very way he writes, both simply and directly.

Are you concerned with how your writing hangs together? Chapter 5 on Composition is for you. Are you concerned with what you have actually said after completing a piece of writing? Chapter 6 covers the agony and joys of Revision.

Each chapter ends with a very pleasant clearing of the palate, what Barzun calls Time Out for Good Reading. In these short pieces you will find the writings of such as Eric Hoffer, Dorothy Sayers, Abraham Lincoln, and others who have written works that meet all of Barzun's criteria for Simple & Direct.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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