A stunning example of a happy marriage between fecund imagination and devoted scholarship.



A full-immersion exploration of two great poets at the end of the 18th century, a time that ended with the publication of their Lyrical Ballads.

In his latest, Somerset Maugham Award winner Nicolson (The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers, 2018, etc.) provides an astonishingly rich re-creation of the months that the Wordsworths and Coleridges lived near each other in southwest England. The author tells us how they met, how they ended up living there, and how they spent their hours and days (lots of walking and talking) when both of them would write some of their most celebrated works—Coleridge: “Kubla Khan” and “Cristabel”; Wordsworth: “Tintern Abbey.” Nicolson also reminds us continually of the women in the writers’ lives: Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, a crucial companion who suggested ideas; Coleridge’s wife, Sara, who wasn’t as much a part of the literary excitement. We also see the emerging—and then diverging—poetical attitudes of the two principals and their eventual separation. Nicolson, like Richard Holmes—to whom he pays tribute early in the volume—not only read the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge and conducted library research; he moved to the region and enjoyed the same nature walks, becoming extremely familiar with the woods and water. Periodically, he offers his own lyrical paragraphs about the terrain—about what it was like in 1797 and what it’s like now. This reflects the author’s deep commitment to the project and diligence in trying to truly understand these men and their writing. He also quotes and expatiates upon hundreds of lines of poetry, dives into their letters, and tells stories about some of their notable visitors (young William Hazlitt was smitten by Coleridge). Nicolson’s passion sometimes leads him to suggest that all of this has been consequential for how we think and imagine today.

A stunning example of a happy marriage between fecund imagination and devoted scholarship.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-20021-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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