Any critic who interprets a publisher’s claim that a “lean” book means “very short, especially considering the price” is...

PIECES OF MY MIND

ESSAYS AND CRITICISM 1958-2002

A chronologically arranged series of literary essays by the eminent scholar and critic, “offered indifferently to defense and prosecution, of the way in which a now quite long professional life has been spent.”

Cambridge don Kermode (Shakespeare’s Language, 2000, etc.) never met a Shakespearean soliloquy or a biblical passage that he hasn’t cared to pull apart to see how it ticks. In this lively collection, he sticks to favorite themes worked hard over many years, taking in not only Shakespeare and the Bible, but also moderns such as Auden and Wallace Stevens (“perhaps one could say that Stevens was a better poet than Heidegger and a better philosopher than Hölderin, and so found himself, in a manner, betwixt and between”). Humane and learned, Kermode’s essays carry a lot of weight, to say nothing of circuitous asides and deep allusions; one has the sense throughout that someone who has read every book ever published is at work. Yet Kermode wears his learning lightly, and even takes a few good-natured shots at himself, as when he opens a rather dense piece on the theme of secrets and narrative sequence with the self-effacing remark, “My lecture could be called aridly academic, but I include it as a reminder that in the Seventies I spent much time devotedly doing this kind of thing.” Fortunately, arid academicism for its own sake is seldom on view here. Instead, the reader is treated to splendid considerations of such matters as the rise and fall and rise of Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s renown, and its implications for the making of canons; the meaning of canons in general, and the promise that a canonical work contains “perpetual modernity”; and the twisted politics of writers of the 1930s, to name but a few topics that have taken Kermode’s interest.

Any critic who interprets a publisher’s claim that a “lean” book means “very short, especially considering the price” is worth reading. Another feather in Kermode’s wide-brimmed cap.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8090-7601-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2003

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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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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