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Pedagogy 4.3 (2004) 490-492
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An Unorthodox Approach to Learning the Art of Writing
In Adios, Strunk and White, Gary and Glynis Hoffman put a pulse back into the lifeless college essay. With their unorthodox techniques for style, form, and critical thinking, they bring innovation, color, and creativity to the traditional writing textbook. Highly inspirational in its intent and long overdue in English writing courses, Adios reinvigorates the idea that expository prose is an art. This daring text questions why we must accept the unsettling contrast between contemporary essays praised in the literary world and the archaic and banal writing ideologies of William Strunk and E. B. White's (in)famous 1935 textbook, The Elements of Style, perennially taught in writing classes. Adios praises The Elements' "compactness and uniqueness," which have been the "touchstone for professionals, amateurs, teachers, and students," but it recognizes that writing has evolved in the past seventy years, stylistically and structurally. It argues persuasively that teaching methods must change, too.
In their extensive perusal of magazine articles, epistles, essays, journals, short stories, and novels by writers ranging from Geoffrey Chaucer to Jamaica Kincaid, from Franz Kafka to Woody Allen, the Hoffmans discovered a group of writing tools consistently used by credible writers yet ironically overlooked by English teachers who insist on referring back to the basic, minimizing, dry, and painful stylistic "dogma" of the traditional college essay. Adios therefore offers a revision and a stronger correlation between what the "master" writers are writing and what the writing composition textbooks are teaching, encouraging students to learn to write in complex stylistic and rhetorical modes utilized by great writers while they simultaneously read "expert writers" to reinforce and enjoy essential writing skills.
Adios asserts that writing is similar to other forms of art, so students should learn to use and comprehend the "music and rhythms" of the great writers. Certainly, as all trained writers know, conveying meaning depends not only on what is said, but how it is said: form is content is form. The Hoffmans believe that in order for young writers to understand the stylistic nuisances demonstrated by great writers, they themselves must learn how to use style in their own writing. Adios successfully teaches students to imitate famous writers, helping young scholars to recognize the stylistic devices [End Page 490] being used and enabling them to use these tools themselves. Students will not only be able to write better, they will be able to read better as well.
This textbook is based on the notion that the majority of college students who enter basic composition classes have been steered away from stylistic concepts (possibly because the teachers themselves did not understand them). These unfortunate students were taught to avoid long sentences, to stick close to simple subject/verb/object sentence structure (with the occasional compounding of dependent and independent clauses), never to be too creative, and to write essays on topics ranging from not very exciting to incredibly boring, in formats never straying far from the five-paragraph essay. As a solution, Adios teaches contemporary stylistic and structural methods that help inexperienced writers become comfortable writing in a style consisting of sentences varying in length, with metaphors, hyphenated words, and content-fashioning punctuation (colons, semicolons, dashes, parentheses, and so forth), and in aggressively creative structures derived from well-known writers, making writing fun, even in a basic college writing course.
The text is broken into three parts: "Style," "Form," and "Headwork." Part 1 focuses on style because, the authors argue, style comes before organization and students need to first comprehend "the small parts of writing having to do with words and sentences" in order to write strong essays "rich in style." The first section, "Flow," is the most effective part of this textbook. It teaches sentence structure—"freighting and telescoping"—in a visual way so that students can see and understand the functions of a sentence, freeing them to explore the...