Quirky, crotchety and unconvincing.



A former Time Out writer harks back to the days of handwritten letters.

O'Connell covers the book world for a number of British newspapers. Now 40, he describes himself as having been an inveterate letter writer before the days of email. Like everyone else, he admits, he was seduced by the speed and ease of email communications, but now he is rethinking the question. For him, texting and Twitter were steps too far. “[P]eople have to understand,” he writes, “we've been sold this idea of progress and it's…wrong. Just because you develop a new thing, it doesn’t mean earlier versions of that thing have to become obsolete.” The physicality embodied in a handwritten letter carries meaning, especially after the passage of time. O’Connell writes that a handwritten condolence letter he received after the death of his mother set him on this track. He also believes that a collection of letters trumps biography: Letters “encapsulate [a life] more effectively.” The author is at pains to make clear that typewritten letters are just as bad as email. Another of his bugaboos is the round-robin missive that shares family news, whatever its medium of communication. “It’s one of the tragedies of the modern world,” he writes, “the way the round-robin has survived, like some demonic post-apocalyptic cockroach.” One might think this aggressive nostalgia is a bit of tongue-in-cheek British humor if not for the fact that O’Connell devotes much of the book to excerpted correspondence by literary and political figures—e.g., Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and others.

Quirky, crotchety and unconvincing.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1880-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Marble Arch/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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