There are moments of real beauty here, but emulating Nabokov is not a task to be taken lightly. Zanganeh's literary hero...

THE ENCHANTER

NABOKOV AND HAPPINESS

An odd, genre-bending tribute to Vladimir Nabokov.

Nabokov, the master of narrative trickery and literary puzzles, was known for, among countless other accolades and seminal works, his innovative autobiography, Speak Memory, which was less a straightforward memoir than a series of memories that blurred fiction and fact and past and present. It is only fitting then, that literary scholar Zanganeh, obsessed with Nabokov since finding a copy of Ada on her mother's nightstand long before it was appropriate reading material for her, uses a similarly vague structure in this work. The author intertwines her memories as a reader of Nabokov with scenes from his life and his books, as well as present-day visits with his son Dmitri. Zanganeh is not the first to wax philosophical about Nabokov, though her interrogation of his work and her own experiences with it is more scholarly and less immediately compelling than that of her famous counterpart, Azar Nafisi. Structuring the narrative around the notion of happiness, Zanganeh delves deeply into his feelings on love, both in his novels and in his lifelong passionate relationship with his wife and unconditional affection for his only son. She muses on place, traveling through the American West that so enchanted Nabokov, and on nature, focusing on his absolute passion for butterflies. Though the author at times brilliantly captures Nabokov's calculated whimsy, some of her material feels gimmicky and detracts from her scholarship. The recountings of conversations with Dmitri, for example, are both lovely and informative, and are far more effective than imagined conversations with his long-dead father. 

There are moments of real beauty here, but emulating Nabokov is not a task to be taken lightly. Zanganeh's literary hero left behind some awfully big shoes, which she just can't quite fill.

Pub Date: May 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-07992-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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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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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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