Zacharias shows a keen eye for detail (she’s also a photographer), a strong sense of place, and an ambivalent, unsentimental...



A novelist and professor’s essay collection that almost coalesces into a memoir.

Zacharias (Creative Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro; At Random, 2013, etc.) recounts how, after the publication of her first novel (Lessons, 1981), she spent 10 years writing her second, only to see it rejected, as was her third.  “You write well, but you won’t sell,” editors and agents told her. “Today’s reader wants a high concept plot and an upbeat message. Your work is literary. It’s dark, but not Oprah dark. There’s no market.” Though the author didn’t exactly buy the explanation, she does write well, and she has since found a home in literary journals. The chronological continuity here and the thematic interweaving of family, place, art and mortality give this collection a cohesiveness that makes some of the lesser pieces—e.g., “Geography for Writers,” which mainly catalogs the spaces where various writers have written—seem intrusive. Yet the format also undermines the strength of some of the strongest pieces, such as the collection-closing “Buzzards,” in which her memories of her father’s life and suicide would have more climactic power if she hadn’t already shared these with readers in earlier essays.  “A Grand Canyon” finds the writer working on many levels, as she fulfills her mother’s dream to travel there, a trip that reveals an emotional chasm between her teenage son and his grandmother and presages “the heartbreaking canyon that will open between us, because in that part of the story the generation gap isn’t between my mother and son but between my son and me. One day the love affair ends for the child, though it never does for the parent.” And then there’s the canyon itself, which the author illuminates as more than a metaphor.

Zacharias shows a keen eye for detail (she’s also a photographer), a strong sense of place, and an ambivalent, unsentimental examination of blood ties and family legacy.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938235-00-9

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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