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“To see clearly, look askance,” Geary advises. He heeds his own advice to entertaining effect.

A playful book that celebrates all forms of wit.

In his latest, Geary (Deputy Curator, Nieman Foundation for Journalism/Harvard Univ.; I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, 2011, etc.) discusses many of the forms wit can take. To add to the fun, he writes each chapter in a style that mimics the topic under discussion. A chapter that compares wit to fencing is a “dramatic dialogue” between philosopher Denis Diderot and literary theorist Madame de Staël, who says that, to be witty, one must have what is known in fencing as a riposte, “a quick, robust return thrust.” Another chapter, written as a scientific paper, examines “how wit might work in the brain” and includes footnotes, figures, tables, and diagrams. Geary has great fun with the many different styles: an essay written in the manner of 17th-century English playwright Joseph Addison’s Spectator essays on “the nature of wit”; a section written in jive; a poem in the form of a rap song; an art history lecture that states that “seeing is an interpretive act,” such as when one detects a human face in a rock outcropping; even a sermon. The use of different styles for each chapter is sometimes too clever for its own good, but one is likely to come away from the book convinced of many of the author’s arguments, as when he demonstrates that “puns are not wit’s lowest form but its highest expression.” Many of the anecdotes are hilarious, as when Geary notes that, after a Columbia University philosopher stated in a lecture that no language exists in which two positives make a negative, another professor muttered from the back of the hall, “Yeah, yeah.”

“To see clearly, look askance,” Geary advises. He heeds his own advice to entertaining effect.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-25494-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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