Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, was recently featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review to, well, review books (among other things). Pinker covers everything from the current books sitting beside his bed on his nightstand to his dream literary dinner party, but one question and answer caught the Press’s attention in particular.
When asked if there were “any unexpected gems you came across” while researching his latest book “The Sense of Style,” Pinker names Mark Turner and Francis Noël Thomas’s Clear and Simple as the Truth. “Their model of ‘classic prose’ — the writer directs the reader’s gaze to something in the world — elegantly captures the differences between vigorous and turgid writing,” explains Pinker in the interview.
Not long after the Times interview (literally one day later) Pinker was published in The Chronicle Review of Higher Education for his explanation of why academics stink at writing. Here, Pinker turns to Turner and Thomas for help framing his argument. “In a brilliant little book called Clear and Simple as the Truth, the literary scholars Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner argue that every style of writing can be understood as a model of the communication scenario that an author simulates in lieu of the real-time give-and-take of a conversation.”
“They distinguish, in particular, romantic, oracular, prophetic, practical, and plain styles, each defined by how the writer imagines himself to be related to the reader, and what the writer is trying to accomplish…Among those styles is one they single out as an aspiration for writers of expository prose. They call it classic style, and they credit its invention to 17th-century French essayists such as Descartes and La Rochefoucauld.”