THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 1991

Oates, in her introduction, defines the essay, a  la Randall Jarrell, as "prose works of certain lengths that have many more things right about them than wrong" Montaigne, Hazlitt, Mandelstam would roll in their graves! Only Richard Rodriguez's "Late Victorians"—domestic architecture as sexuality in gay San Francisco—brings a remarkable voice to bear on an idea worthy of the great essay masters. From most everybody else here, the essay seems to he something that (1) can't quite he fiction and (2) must he too long (or, if short, smug). Gerald Early's intriguing piece about black female self-image overshoots the runway and travels on and on and on...forever. Likewise Mark Rudman's at first genial piece about walking. Ditto pieces by Reg Saner, Jane Tompkins, Garrett Hongo. On the short, smug side, Elizabeth Hardwick's impressions of New York's desuetude must he the most pretentious thing she's ever written, Gretel Ehrlich's contribution the same. Intellectual and stylistic mediocrity is the province here of Woody Allen, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Frank Conroy, Dorien Rosa, Amy Tan, and Joy Williams. A few modest personal pieces do hold their own, powered by self-analysis—by Diana Hume George, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Marianna De Marco Torgovnick; and Margaret Atwood's "The Female Body" is vinegary fun. Overall, though, not the essay's finest outing.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1991

ISBN: 0-89919-929-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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