The word “Baghdad” in the title may prompt some readers to pull this from the shelves, but they will likely be disappointed.



A predictable memoir about an immigrant son’s struggle to find himself.

Poet Marshall’s parents were Sephardic Jews—Dad from Baghdad, Mom from Aleppo—who immigrated to America and entered into an ill-advised marriage in New York. Marshall’s home life was different from those of other Jewish kids in Brooklyn: His parents, for instance, whether swearing or offering praise, denoted God not by the Hebrew “Ha-Shem” or “Eloheem,” but by the Arabic “Allah.” As he moved into adolescence, Marshall had an increasingly difficult time reconciling science and literature with traditional Jewish teaching. As a last ditch effort to shore up faith, he enrolled, on a generous scholarship, in the rabbinical program at Yeshiva University—but he didn’t last long. The siren song of the poets snagged him instead, and he took refuge in the main reading room of the main branch of the New York Public Library, reading “thirsty as a castaway at a free tap,” keeping company with the words of Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas. The end of this memoir finds Marshall setting sail, figuratively and literally: Broke but determined to see the world, he found work on the SS Ferngrove and . . . off he went. The text is littered with too-cute lines (e.g., “any Orthodox rabbi worth his kosher Crystal salt”). Marshall has a unique heritage, but not enough of this story feels original or fresh.

The word “Baghdad” in the title may prompt some readers to pull this from the shelves, but they will likely be disappointed.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-56689-174-4

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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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