A collection of poet Goldbarth’s (Jan. 31, 1974, etc.) previously published essays which burst into the black night like an explosion of firecrackers: eruptions of color and jazz riffs of language that ultimately fade to nothing. Moments of pure brilliance punctuate these ten essays, each a tribute and a rhapsody to the questions and conditions of being human. Sometimes Goldbarth’s language is so right, so exact, with the English language at its most scintillating, sharp, and lapidary. The whole effect, though, of these pastiches becomes the vicarious, voyeuristic, and empty pleasure of witnessing the author’s masturbatory revels: oh, how he impresses himself (and you, too, dear reader!) with his stratospheric lexicon and compendium of fascinating trivia. His erudition is unquestionable (as attested by his encyclopedic knowledge of comic book villains, all fictional characters who happen to be green, and his laundry list of important events of 1913), but the mishmash which results from this eclectic collection of trivia only blinds and hides the moments of humanity and compassion which should be the book’s core. Essays which probe the nature of time and memory, the fractured essence of identity, and the real potential for human obsolescence become mired in the extended conceits he draws about them: the whirlwinds of details and trivia surrounding his metaphors eventually overcome the real subjects of the essays. The end result stands, not as an investigation into the human condition, but paradoxically, as a shield against it. If heady wordplay and postmodern pastiche were sufficient ingredients for meaningful existential enquiry, these essays would stand as monumental achievements; unfortunately, they are limp and lifeless lumps drowned in their own syrup of superficiality.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8203-2126-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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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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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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