A lightweight but endearing and nimble look at how pursuing absurd extremes can illuminate the more mundane aspects of...

THE GUINEA PIG DIARIES

MY LIFE AS AN EXPERIMENT

Esquire editor at large Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically, 2007, etc.) continues his unique brand of immersion journalism.

The swift-moving collection holds together well, and though the author cultivates the persona of a nebbish, his style is crisp and often laugh-out-loud funny. He examines his love for organizing his days via archaic or eccentric principles, regardless of the confusion inflicted on friends, acquaintances and his long-suffering wife. “I’ve tried to understand the world by immersing myself in extraordinary circumstances,” he writes, and admits the addictive nature of the process, rather than the results. He capably translates these journeys into wry comedy, although he claims that “making life better in the end” is his secondary goal. Some of the participants in his experiments, however, may disagree, such as his son’s attractive nanny, who afforded Jacobs the opportunity to live the life of a beautiful woman—for which the author rather intrusively managed her Internet dating. Next, Jacobs discovered he could “outsource” every aspect of his daily life to companies based in India, apparently staffed by youthful overachievers who are pleased to take on the responsibilities of lazy Americans while presumably thinking, “How the hell did these idiots ever become a superpower?” After encountering a psychotherapist who advocates the cultish lifestyle of “Radical Honesty,” the author spent a month being compulsively truthful: “I had to do some apologizing post-piece, as you might imagine.” He also lived for a month like George Washington, based on the president’s surprisingly useful list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” and spent a month being completely subservient to his wife (which she felt was long overdue). Each chapter—some of which previously appeared in Esquire—is followed by a “Coda,” in which Jacobs assesses the experiment and its aftermath.

A lightweight but endearing and nimble look at how pursuing absurd extremes can illuminate the more mundane aspects of contemporary existence.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9906-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

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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