Uncommonly graceful and wise.



Well-wrought, deeply thoughtful personal essays from a master of the form.

“Memory is a room always hitched to our travels,” writes Masters (English/Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Elegy for Sam Emerson, 2006, etc.). That room gets a thorough airing as the aging author looks back on a rich literary life, which has included an unbalanced literary friendship with William Humphrey and a warm one with Wright Morris, who in retirement supplies Masters with a remark that could serve as an inscription for this collection: “I am overwhelmed by the past.” This son of poet Edgar Lee Masters writes about his grandparents, parents, lovers, wives and children (he alludes to an estranged daughter)—“generations scrambling over each other”—to bring a kind of order to the discontinuity of his life. He memorably recounts his arrest on trumped-up disorderly-conduct charge as a teenager, all the while confessing in his mind guilt for an array of larger sins and offenses for which he’d heretofore gone unpunished. He recaptures the exhilaration of criss-crossing the country as a youth and his repeated, treasured visits to France. He recalls working as a 15-year-old civilian plane spotter during World War II. He honors the return of a long-lost, runaway dog, who, like the author, “[has] had adventures, but…remembered where he came from.” He fondly looks back on the gift of Robinson Crusoe that inspired his writing career. Whether he’s remarking on the mundane—a pear, a piece of pie, a hotel room—or his mother’s dementia (“a revision of history in progress”), Masters reliably delivers insights that make every page a delight. Hints of Thoreau, Twain, Hemingway and, above all, Montaigne, mark his approach, but the hard-earned voice that emerges is surely his own.

Uncommonly graceful and wise.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8032-2271-7

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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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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