A literate, thoughtful memoir/essay collection from the heartland.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH

Bauer, a Boston-based writer and teacher (Literature/Bennington Coll.; Prairie City, Iowa: Three Seasons at Home, 2012, etc.), was once an Iowa farm boy. In these deeply personal essays, he celebrates his family’s life in the Hawkeye State.

Age-related ailments are the author’s evocative madeleine in his search for times past in the American heartland: Cataract surgery on the day his mother died results in a warm recollection of her life; an echocardiogram for tachycardia brings forth more rural family history; in his knee, a torn meniscus carries memories of the girls for whom young Bauer pined. The author remembers the kitchen aromas, the tractor growls, the working Iowa weekdays and the quiet Sundays in a genial, gentle manner. It’s as homely as checkers, modest as an outhouse, and, too, elegant and cleareyed. With his narrative artistry, Bauer renders the commonplace uncommon. He ably brings to life his forebear farmers and their diligent wives, the mean-tempered coal-miner grandfather in his bib overalls and his wife, and the corpulent grandmother. Bauer reimagines his parents’ youthful romance and paints, as well, their later, more fraught relationship. His mother always admired well-maintained farm tillage, and his father grew more taciturn as their bond became more caustic. After he died, her memory of married life became anodyne again. Early in his writing career, Bauer was befriended by the notable food critic and essayist M.F.K. Fisher, who, in important ways, seemed to become another maternal influence. And so the answer to the rhetorical question of this work’s title is clear. As the memoir reaffirms, we live and love, and the years pass, to be relived in memory of those who follow. It’s fortunate, then, to be memorialized in essays like these.

A literate, thoughtful memoir/essay collection from the heartland.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60938-183-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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