A commendable essay collection by one of the leading practitioners of the form.




A collection of essays, some journalistic, some critical, some memoiristic, all marked by the author’s distinct intelligence.

In “Mark My Words. Maybe.” an essay not included here, Jamison (Director, Graduate Nonfiction Program/Columbia Univ.; The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, 2018, etc.) recounts getting Roman playwright Terence’s quotation Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto ("I am human, nothing human is alien to me") tattooed on her arm. That apothegm, which also served as the epigraph to her first collection, The Empathy Exams (2014), is put to the test in her latest book. Whether encountering a boy in a wheelchair in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, or a pushy woman on a layover in Houston, the author wonders at the limits of empathy. In “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live Again,” she recounts her interview with a man who claimed he was “not a gun nut” even as he handled two guns and left “a collection of bullets spread across his comforter” for her to find: “Had I been foolishly unwilling to acknowledge that some people were alien to me? Did I need to identify with all the gun-loving men of this world? Was it naive or even ethically irresponsible to believe I should find common ground with everyone, or that it was even possible?” Jamison’s other main intellectual concern is the exploitative role of the journalist. In “Maximum Exposure,” she offers a sympathetic portrait of the photographer Annie Appel, who must ask her subjects, “Can I take this moment of your life and make my art from it?” The common cause she finds with the journalistic skepticism of Janet Malcolm and James Agee is odd, though, considering how many of her essays begin as reporting. Jamison thinks and writes so elegantly, the subjects that serve as many of her jumping-off points risk feeling superfluous to the real business of her essaying. Still, as with nearly all of her writing, this one is well worth reading.

A commendable essay collection by one of the leading practitioners of the form.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-25963-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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