A quirky, variegated salute to what Aldous Huxley called “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost...

Should essays be light and playful, hard and serious, or both? Some 50 experts on the form, ranging across 400 years, tackle the question in this odd volume, edited by Klaus, founding director of University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program (The Made Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay, 2010, etc.), and Stuckey-French (English/Florida State Univ.; The American Essay in the American Century, 2011).

“A genuine essay,” writes Cynthia Ozick, “has no educational, polemical, or sociopolitical use; it is the movement of a free mind at play.” It is “science, minus the explicit proof” (José Ortega y Gasset), “spontaneous and audacious” (Enrique Amberson Imbert), “a walk, an excursion, not a business trip” (Michael Hamburger). It is personal, “a piece of Autobiography” (Charles Lamb), but only to a point. “Never to be yourself and yet always—that is the problem,” writes Virginia Woolf. To essay means “to try but not to attempt,” writes William Carlos Williams; according to Jean Starobinski, it means to weigh. Not so, says André Belleau: ”The essay is not a weighing, an evaluation of ideas; it is a swarm of idea-words.” Through the ages, the word has become a catchall for reviews, sermons and lectures, among other forms of expression. In the late 19th century, William Dean Howells bemoaned the day “when the essay began to confuse itself with the article, and to assume an obligation of constancy to premises and conclusions” Like a classic essay itself, this book approaches its neither-fish-nor-fowl subject from many angles; it bemoans the death of the form, salutes its hearty endurance and both inspires and alienates.

A quirky, variegated salute to what Aldous Huxley called “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.”

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60938-076-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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