THE LOST CONTINENT

TRAVELS IN SMALL-TOWN AMERICA

An unending barrage of sarcastic commentary—some of it funny, most of it obnoxious—nearly obscures the occasional acute perceptions of America that Bryson peppers throughout this prodigal son's report. After living and travel-writing for more than a decade in England, Bryson, inspired by a trip to his hometown of Des Moines to attend his father's funeral, decided to explore the US. Here, he reports on his recent trip crisscrossing the nation, guffawing and complaining most of the way, visiting mainly small towns and the countryside in between, but also a few cities, most on the East Coast. True to the book's sour spirit, it begins with a disappointment: a visit to Bryson's grandparents' Iowa house, now no longer the happy home of memory but merely a "shack" surrounded by "cheap little houses." Bryson finds solace by buying the Sunday New York Times, though, and points out that it costs 75,000 trees to reproduce: "So what it' our grandchildren have no oxygen lo breath? Fuck'em." Bryson's humor doesn't get much sharper than that, but his eye for American foibles does, as he endures the, to him, dull plains of Nebraska; garishness of Las Vegas; spookiness of the Smoky Mountains; terrors of a Philadelphia slum; overorderliness of the Smithsonian, and onwards. The mailing of America, the violence that pervades the land, the sleazy films that fill the airwaves: these are the sores that shock or amuse his expatriate's eye. But still Bryson finds good here: the simple dignity of Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo, Miss,; the glories of the Grand Canyon; the nostalgic treasures of baseball's spacious Hall of Fame; and, finally, returning lo Des Moines, all that makes this city "friendly and decent and nice." Bryson is a smooth writer, only far too Smug and self-consciously cranky; still, his account is funny al times, insightful at others. But for a mine mature, wise, and winsome American odyssey by another expatriate, see Mort Rosenblum's excellent Back Home (p. 978).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1989

ISBN: 0060920084

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1989

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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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