CITIES ON A HILL

A JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURES

The Pulitzer-prize-winning author (Fire in the Lake) turns a penetrating gaze on four recently evolved "communities" which, she contends, exemplify America's unique penchant for abandoning the culture of the mainstream to set up diverse, self-contained societies. The first of these is "The Castro," a San Francisco neighborhood of young, primarily male homosexuals who once believed that they were at the forefront of the Sexual Revolution. In recent years, AIDS has decimated their numbers and virtually destroyed their political and social activism. Like the Castro, the retirement community of Sun City, Florida, is "something new under the sun." History has never recorded an overtly gay male community with its own tribal rituals and political organizations, nor have towns restricted entirely to older people existed prior to the mid-20th century. On the other hand, Reverend Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist Church of Lynchburg, Va., and his vociferous Moral Majority are neither unique nor particularly new. Fitzgerald documents their roots in the revivalist upswing of the 1820's and the later "born-again' Christian movement. Falwell's constituency is, however, a community apart from the mainstream in that it adheres to a way of life in which moral values, political judgments and day-to-day decisions are dictated from the pulpit—electronic or actual. The most bizarre community Fitzgerald scrutinizes is the Oregon town called Razneeshpuram, which attracted numerous well-heeled professionals devoted to joyous consciousness-raising and to the establishment of a unique center for worldwide spiritual enlightenment. Almost from its beginnings, the commune alienated its neighbors and, eventually, all of Oregon. It self-destructed in a series of lawsuits and government fraud citations. In analyzing these societies, Fitzgerald supplies a wealth of information on the economic, cultural, spiritual and political forces that brought them about. She virtually immerses herself into each and hobnobs with the people involved in them and with their leaders—except for the guru, Rajneesh, who had taken a vow of silence. The end result is reportage of imposing depth and breadth. Her insights are fascinating, sometimes amusing, often troubling and always stimulating.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1986

ISBN: 0330298453

Page Count: 414

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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