As satisfying as any trip by Paul Theroux but with a much less prickly and much more forgiving narrator.

SOUTH OF THE CLOUDS

TRAVELS IN SOUTHWEST CHINA

Journalist/translator and intrepid traveler Porter (Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, 2008, etc.) takes readers on another virtual journey into the China few Westerners know.

On his latest, Porter traveled to Yunnan, in southwestern China, a place opened to foreigners way back in Marco Polo’s day—courtesy of the invading Mongols, the author points out—but not much visited even so. The narrative opens in the frontier city of Wuchou, fairly new “as Chinese towns go,” having been built 1,400 years ago, “back in the T’ang dynasty, when the Chinese decided they needed a more permanent presence in order to control the trade goods that poured forth from that region.” The Chinese have been seeking to control the place ever since, as Porter quietly points out while traveling from one ethnic enclave to another, telling tales of amity and enmity. As a reporter, he’s a font of oddities, noting which towns are renowned for snake recipes, which cater to the tourist trade, and which are best avoided altogether. Mostly, he writes with good humor (“Kuelin…now featured the standard overpriced tourist facilities and services that catered to large tour groups, which were okay if you don’t mind being treated like a sheep”), and he’s inclined to laugh at himself for getting into odd situations—e.g., perched on a high cliff over the Yangtze River, with only himself to blame for the predicament. The book has a slightly scattershot feel, without the keen sense of goal and direction that marked Porter’s Road to Heaven (1993), but the journey is absorbing all the same, a tale of precarious mountain passes, forbidden borderlands, and mostly lovely people, to say nothing of a statue of a “two-foot-high vulva.”

As satisfying as any trip by Paul Theroux but with a much less prickly and much more forgiving narrator.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61902-719-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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