SMOKE AND MIRRORS

VIOLENCE, TELEVISION, AND OTHER AMERICAN CULTURES

A sometimes stirring but numbingly overargued and long-winded defense of television. As it has expanded from its first lonely trinity of networks to the much-promised 500 channels, television has fallen into increasing disrepute. Quite a change, as New York magazine TV critic, and former New York Times book critic, Leonard (Private Lives in the Imperial City, 1979, etc.) carefully details, from the carefree pioneer days, when TV was almost unanimously welcomed into the national culture. Now it is held responsible for all manner of societal ills; politicians decry programmed sex and violence; V- chips are in the offing; and even the notion of a national culture has broken down. But as Leonard copiously argues (long past the point of convincing), the boob tube is not as bad as it's cracked up to be: ``A medium capable of China Beach, M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere, Northern Exposure, Homicide, and The X-Files has less to be ashamed of than many of its critics do, and most of its competition.'' Then, just to drive his point home, Leonard looks for the good in every type of programming TV has to offer. From mysteries to movies of the week to talk shows to medical dramas, Leonard draws a madly elaborate portrait of a medium deeply and positively engaged with the issues and circumstances of our lives: ``How is it . . . that our politics and culture got so mean while television was asking us night after night to be nicer to women, children, minorities, immigrants, poor people, and strangers?'' But even Leonard's rousing, acerbic style can't pardon his excesses: 40-plus pages on police shows, much of it recapitulation of plots and characters, 30 pages on shows about AIDS—he just keeps going, and going, and going.

Pub Date: March 13, 1997

ISBN: 1-56584-226-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1997

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

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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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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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