Little style or substance.

READ REVIEW

IDYLL BANTER

WEEKLY EXCURSIONS TO A VERY SMALL TOWN

Ten years of insubstantial newspaper columns about life in small-town Vermont.

In 1992, after six years of living in Lincoln, a burg of fewer than a thousand souls near Burlington, novelist Bohjalian (The Buffalo Soldier, 2002, etc.) was asked to write a column for the Burlington Free Press to be called “Idyll Banter.” These short rural portraits were pegged to make residents and visitors alike “smile,” which they do, with Bohjalian working the sentimental angle with gusto, though rarely rising above the quaint. He offers good words on kinship and the complexity of blood networks, on tolerance of eccentricity and “glorification of neighborliness for the simple reason it is easier to be civil than ornery when on any given day you're likely to run into someone at the library, the post office, or while watching the annual outhouse races.” He writes about the physics of deep snow on a rooftop, about the local river breaching its banks and flooding the library, and about carpets of dead cluster flies (a perennial favorite). He chronicles a six-mile, snow-driven horseback ride 50 years ago to deliver a letter to a family awaiting news of their son during WWII. Nor does he neglect bats decomposing inside wood stoves, road kill, schoolchildren visiting the graveyard on Memorial Day, or small-town events. What the author fails to provide is the sap of these doings, the drama of the quotidian; we get the foam off his evaporator, not the syrup. Bohjalian might make you smile and occasionally think about just why autumn is so phantasmagoric in Vermont or why farms are vanishing, but his offerings rarely fill the belly. His work pales in comparison with fellow Vermont essayists Noel Perrin and Don Mitchell, who work within the same columnist’s compression yet find both song and pith.

Little style or substance.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-4000-5215-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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