Deft, graceful essays from a sharply incisive writer.

SEE WHAT CAN BE DONE

ESSAYS, CRITICISM, AND COMMENTARY

The award-winning fiction writer gathers essays written over the past three decades.

Reviewing Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Passionate Minds, Moore (English/Vanderbilt Univ.; Bark: Stories, 2014, etc.) offered generous praise for the collection of literary profiles: “with its unintimidated questions and explorations,” the book, she wrote, “is provocative and bracing, a wizard’s mix of innocence and fire.” Much the same can be said of these articles, reviews, bits of memoir, and commentaries, many published in the New York Review of Books and the New York Times. The collection opens with a review of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn which Moore wrote for Cornell’s literary magazine in 1983 and ends with an essay about blues guitarist Stephen Stills, whose concert Moore attended in “late-middle-aged ecstasy” in 2017. An astute, sympathetic reader, she appreciates the “friendly irony” of Bobbie Ann Mason’s stories; Don DeLillo’s “ability to let America, the bad dream of it, speak through his pen”; and Joyce Carol Oates’ “richly witty and despairing” Broke Heart Blues. Moore defends the controversial choice of Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven, a novel as linked stories, as a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award: Silber writes like “a graceful swimmer on a leisurely swim, though her brisk, radiant prose chops the water like a sprite.” Although most pieces focus on books, Moore rings in on a few TV shows, including The Wire, which she found riveting for its “admirable and unblinking look at a cursed people—America’s largely black and brown urban underclass”; and the “legitimately brilliant drama” of the NBC series Friday Night Lights. On politics, Moore can be unsparing in her disdain: in 1998, during the Starr investigation of the Lewinsky scandal, she wondered at the public’s apparently sudden shock and anger about a man who always seemed to her “a charming shark, a user, a yuppie, a bad actor, and a sexy, lying fool.” She skewers Trump as “part Crazy Eddie, part Henry VIII, part AWOL Andrew Jackson…in it for the adventure and applause.”

Deft, graceful essays from a sharply incisive writer.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3248-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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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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