HAUNTS OF THE BLACK MASSEUR

THE SWIMMER AS HERO

One of the strangest and most stylish books of the year: a cultural history of swimming, by a dealer in 19th-century paintings. Sprawson learned to swim as a boy in India, at a school where his English father was headmaster. He still swims today, and one of the many pleasures of this aquatic rhapsody is his occasional foray into autobiography, as he struggles across the Hellespont (now clogged with ships) in homage to Byron, or paddles in pools where Tennessee Williams once trolled the waters. Like his natant heroes, Sprawson belongs to a singular society, ``divorced from everyday life, devoted to a mode of exercise where most of the body remains submerged and self-absorbed.'' In the 19th century, the British were the champions of this worldwide fraternity, favoring the breast-stroke and using frogs as their model for kicking. Sprawson dives lustily into the English tradition of the poet as water sprite, which reached its apotheosis with Byron, who exemplified muscular, endurance swimming, and Shelley, who was obsessed with water but never learned to float and who died by drowning. Rupert Brooke swam as a celebration of youth; for Baron Corvo, it was an expression of homosexuality. Meanwhile, across the great briny, Eakins's paintings, Whitman's poems, and London's tales Americanized the sport; later, it became a staple of southern prose as an expression of decadence or sexual release (Sprawson's title comes from a Tennessee Williams story and refers to an incident in a bathhouse). Swimming had its glory days in other nations, too, mostly those that celebrated physical prowess. In Germany, swimming became for Goethe, and later Leni Riefenstahl, a declaration of freedom and beauty. In Japan, it expressed the samurai ideal. But whether East or West, the swimmer is always ``in a continuous dream of a world under water''—a poet of the deeps. Positively liquescent with brilliant images and insights. (Photos—16 pp. b&w—not seen.)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-42051-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1992

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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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