Amusing in short spurts—an entertaining way to pass the time in between worrying about the real issues in your life.

ENCYCLOPEDIA PARANOIACA

From National Lampoon co-conspirators Beard (Golf: An Unofficial and Unauthorized History of the World’s Most Preposterous Sport, 2012, etc.) and Cerf (co-author: Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak, 2008, etc.), a whimsical collection of the sometimes-scary, sometimes-silly things that threaten our modern-day lives.

Considering such things as French fries and fracking as dangerous are no-brainers. But other entries in this compendium of assorted life-threatening perils seem downright ludicrous. The shock value of having fresh fruit and fish oil on the same list as skin cancer and radiation is undeniably high—until you read deeper and find that the "danger" of whole fruits is eating them to excess and flooding your system with sugar. The horrors of fish oil? Fish breath. Chewing gum is also on the list of things to fret. Why? Wrinkles around the lips. As the late Gilda Radner once said, "It's always something." Other entries, however, are genuinely shocking and fittingly disturbing—e.g., brown rice. Who'd have thought that the macrobiotic mainstay was so potentially devastating thanks to its nasty habit of absorbing arsenic? The dusty encyclopedic format is also problematic and feels a little awkward deep in the digital age, requiring readers to constantly cross-reference. Beard and Cerf too often mute their many dire warnings, dour cautions and grim advisories with qualifying language. Much more effective are the brief discussions of lesser-understood topics like doom loops and portfolio diversification. Similarly, descriptions of the seething volcano that exists underneath Yellowstone National Park and the fast-approaching Asteroid 99942 Apophis hurtling toward the Earth are truly frightening and fascinating. The book works best as a leisurely joke book rather than a real research tool.

Amusing in short spurts—an entertaining way to pass the time in between worrying about the real issues in your life.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9955-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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