An engaging, if unchallenging, account of an author whose route into—and out of—literary celebrity makes him seem, for better and worse, a man of his time. From the first short stories Caldwell (190387) struggled to get into print, his works drew on the observations he made of poverty in the rural South and the lessons in social consciousness he received from his father, a preacher. Caldwell's first wife, Helen, and their children shared his life of grinding poverty while enduring his volatile temperament. He honed his craft, helped by Helen's editing, but even his best-known work, Tobacco Road, generated poor initial sales—in Miller's estimation because the publisher, Scribner's, marketed the sexually explicit book so timidly. When playwright Jack Kirkland turned Tobacco Road into ``the bawdiest Broadway hit in history,'' Caldwell gained a solid income and practice at arguing for artistic freedom as local officials across the nation tried to close down touring-company productions. As he adapted to a more luxurious life, he also found himself a more glamorous wife: photographer Margaret Bourke-White, with whom he collaborated on studies of southern sharecropping and of Russia during the German invasion—an arrangement that collapsed as Caldwell learned he came second to her art just as Helen and the children had come second to his. Miller (who has a Ph.D. in History of American Civilization from Harvard) tends to avoid probing such fissures in his subject's actions and writings, particularly during Caldwell's decline from celebrity, finally giving this account the feel of a life observed with only intermittent intensity. For example, when discussing Caldwell's mid-1950s output—stories for ``mediocre (often X-rated) journals'' and a ``melodramatic, mildly pornographic'' novel whose sales were enhanced by its spicy cover—he concludes without a trace of irony that Caldwell was ``earning a living from his craft.'' Miller reveals, but never really explores, the complexities and inconsistencies of a man who wrote both first-rate fiction and disposable prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-42931-X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



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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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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