Back in March, I wrote about a new book, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law, which had recently received a strong review in The Wall Street Journal. As I wrote, “from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.”
That a book on classical rhetoric could sell well enough to go into multiple printings even surprised its publisher, David Godine of the eponymous Boston-based [and independent] press, David R. Godine Publishers [which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010]. Initially, he doubted whether Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Boston University School of Law professor Ward Farnsworth could sell out its first printing of 4,000 hardcovers. After all it’s filled with terms like litotes, avoiding making a claim directly; erotema, a question that doesn’t require an answer; and anaphora, repetition at the start. But since its late December release, the book has gone back to press twice for a total of 12,000 copies in print. It’s in the top 100 at Amazon for both Education and Reference, words and language.
“When I signed this thing I thought I was doing this guy a favor. And it turns out he’s doing me a favor,” says Godine, who was approached by Farnsworth to publish the book. Since then the press had one of its biggest sales days in its 41-year history for a single title for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric when Michael Dirda’s review ran in the Washington Post. “Should you buy Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric?,” Dirda asked, unrhetorically. “If you’re at all interested in the techniques of writing, yes.”
Farnsworth, who became interested in rhetoric as a Latin student, has continued to study and teach rhetoric as part of his work as a law professor. The book is structured around repetition of words and phrases, structural matters, and dramatic devices. Each rhetorical terms within those areas is illustrated with examples from Shakespeare, Dickens, Paine, Churchill, Lincoln, and other writers and speakers. “We live in a time when most books about writing are largely about how to make prose simpler,” says Farnsworth. “I agree that simplicity is probably the most important virtue in a writer. But when you read speech and writing that has stood the test of time, you realize that its authors understood much more about their craft than the typical modern book on writing ever explains.”
While reviews continue to come in six months after its release, sales for Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric got a kick start when the Wall Street Journal jumped pub date by a couple months and ran a review three days before Christmas. “The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. . . . But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.” In addition, Farnsworth has appeared on several radio shows, including “The Hugh Hewitt Show” in Los Angeles. Godine hopes to keep sales rolling through father’s day for the dad who never got the classical education he wanted.
The Dirda review from last month’s WaPo is here.
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Some other gems, new and old, from the David Godine catalogue:
:: For Canadians and northerners at heart, a very good and useful book for nature studies, Bright Stars, Dark Trees, Clear Water: Nature Writing from North of the Border, edited by Wayne Grady; featuring the words of John James Audubon, Henry Beston, John Burroughs, Gretel Ehrlich, Florence Page Jaques, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Farley Mowat, John Muir, Grey Owl, Roger Tory Peterson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Henry David Thoreau, Catharine Par Traill, Walt Whitman.
:: DRG’s gorgeous children’s and young adult titles, including
The new Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel: Bringing Matisse to America by Susan Fillion
:: For adults and older readers:
The Superior Person’s Field Guide: to Deceitful, Deceptive & Downright Dangerous Language by Peter Bowler, illustrated by Leslie Cabarga; and other Bowler books
A Year with Emerson: A Daybook, selected & edited by Richard Grossman, with wood engravings by Barry Moser (psst — a steal of a deal in paperback for $10)
:: For foodies:
Bemelmans (beyond Madeline…)
The Kitchen Book & The Cook Book by Nicolas Freeling (beyond the murder mysteries…)
:: For music lovers:
:: For gardeners and naturalists:
The Once & Future Gardener: Garden Writing from the Golden Age of Magazines, 1900-1940, edited by Virginia Tuttle Clayton
Songs to Birds by Jake Page, illustrated by Wesley Bates. From DRG’s description: “Jake Page is one of those rare and refreshing naturalists with a palpable gift for writing. Here he concentrates, more or less, on his favorite subjects: birds. And in these essays, they are presented in every stripe, the swaggering starlings, the querulous gulls, kingbirds, blackbirds, and crows. But birds only provide the skeletons upon which Page hangs the real meat of the pieces: how animals behave with each other, with us, and with the world at large. His real story is how life evolves and interacts, how ponds gradually support an ecosystem, how birds migrate, how animals communicate (even how toads copulate). Page asks questions and gives answers with a marvelous wit and the curiosity of a humanist and the insight of a scientist. It is this combination of his scientific curiosity and his ability to express himself so stylishly that makes him a writer of such charming felicity. His is a mind of uncontrolled inquiry, one attuned to the natural (and often unnatural) world around him, a sensiblity that delights us with is intelligence and insight.”
And last but not least, the Words & Humor category, perhaps my favorite.
That should keep you busy. I can’t mention, or even read, all the books, but maybe between us we can give it a good try!