Yet, with ultimate tenderness, comes the taunting suggestion that we might have been better off in that jittery world poised...

WHAT I CAN’T BEAR LOSING

NOTES FROM A LIFE

National Book Award–winning poet Stern (Last Blue, 2000, etc.) brings the same renowned voice to prose, from a life that began in 1925 in what he recalls as the “Calvinist” Pittsburgh of his immigrant Russian parents.

“They were Sunday Jews,” he recalls, “nonobservant, indifferent to the mind, scoffers at culture. I was the first person to bring a book into the house.” And he read his way to the life of a poet—but hardly overnight. Using the memory he claims “my friends hated me for,” Stern plumbs the nonproductive decades of his youthful wanderings from Pittsburgh to Paris and through Europe to groves of academe for, no doubt, expiation. And while he always seems to remember whether he was reading Dickens or Milton when he was sleeping with a particular (often older) woman, he doesn’t always remember her name. His flowing style forms seemingly random narratives, but there’s also a cycle here: affirmation followed, inexorably, by self-deprecation and then the fears and doubts that lie in wait—for anyone—around the corner. Fortunately, the puckish Stern constantly spies on the impassioned Stern and informs on him. Considering, for example, a passage in Ezekiel, he notes: “It is a radical vision, and a little shocking, as well as being the kind of hyperbole that poets use to upset computer scientists and tree surgeons.” Holders of poetic license, of course, must always find the mystery in it. When there’s a lot of whiskey but no brute force, is it rape? Was the teenage Stern a feckless bystander or an accomplice? Were the nations of Europe in the postwar ’40s feckless bystanders or accomplices to the noble sufferings of sublime cellist Pablo Casals (a Stern hero) under Spain’s Franco?

Yet, with ultimate tenderness, comes the taunting suggestion that we might have been better off in that jittery world poised on the brink of a half-century’s Cold War.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05818-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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