Essays that go down like candy but nourish like health food.



A veteran essayist for the New Yorker and numerous other significant publications returns with an eclectic collection of pieces, all of which feature her unique style and voice.

Most of Merkin’s (Dreaming of Hitler: Passions and Provocations, 1997, etc.) pieces date from the previous decade, though she offers one from 1980 about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (she calls him “preeminently the poet of withdrawn promise”). Merkin includes book reviews, reflections on the sad stories of sadder celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and others), self-revelatory reflections on personal appearance (lip gloss, pedicures), some accounts of her personal obsessions (the Bloomsbury Group, the Brontës), tributes to writers she’s admired (poet Anne Carson, W.G. Sebald, John Updike), and thoughts about fashion and some eminent actresses (Liv Ullman, Diane Keaton, Cate Blanchett). Merkin’s style is inevitably exploratory—these are “essays” in the word’s literal sense. Like Montaigne, she writes to figure something out, not because she’s already figured it out. She also has a fondness for the parenthetical observation; in her piece about Virginia Woolf, she has some lengthy examples of this—appropriate, for Woolf herself loved them. Some of Merkin’s essays are aimed directly at women (though curious men—and/or ignorant ones—will surely find them informative): a piece about handbags (she’s bought and returned many), another on flirting, another about having male gay friends. One of her most touching essays is about the rise and fall of Betty Friedan, whom Merkin credits for lighting the fuse on the women’s movement. However, according to the author, Friedan’s personal flaws—and the rise of the more telegenic Gloria Steinem—occasioned her fall from power. Throughout, Merkin also comments in a variety of ways about her own appearance—her physical virtues, the effects of aging and the broken promises to herself.

Essays that go down like candy but nourish like health food.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-14037-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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