THE LITERARY INSOMNIAC

STORIES AND ESSAYS FOR SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

Some fine work here, mostly new, utilizing sleeplessness as a theme or starting point and comprising, the editors note, ``a catalog of experiences and a way of understanding a massive cultural phenomenon.'' While labeling insomnia a ``cultural phenomenon'' may overstate the case, literary agent Cheney and book editor Hubbert do have a point when they claim that the malady ``is so widespread among writers that it seems almost a prerequisite.'' They cite the well-known insomnia of such figures as Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, and the Brontâs, although none of them are represented in this collection of essays and stories. F. Scott Fitzgerald's ``Sleeping and Waking'' (from The Crack-Up), one of the few older pieces, is as powerful now as it was in the 1930s. In it the alcoholic writer traces his grinding insomnia ``to a single mosquito'' on the 20th floor of a Manhattan hotel. His drunken ``dark hours'' are in sharp contrast to the punchy nights when the novelist Annie Proulx cannot sleep: She reads, writes, even sings (loudly). Mary Morris's story, ``Animal Rescue,'' finds a former city dweller disturbed by the pre-dawn noises of suburbia, most prominently the crying of a frightened cat. A couple of pieces offer unusual variations on the theme: Lynne Sharon Schwartz's deft tale ``Acquainted with the Night,'' about a man who lies awake cataloging ``all the bad things he had ever done,'' and Paul West's viciously funny story, ``Buying the Farm,'' featuring two airline pilots who put each other to sleep by reading ``accident reports . . . somehow banishing the ghost of what might have been by insisting on the worst.'' Lynne Tillman chips in with an effective, depressing story of a woman who finally confronts a neighbor whose auto repairs at 5 a.m. serve as a perfect image of the seething aggression behind city life. A good idea and a good mix of old and new, quirky and standard, funny and moving. Worth staying up for.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-47771-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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