A collection that doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

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WEST OF 98

LIVING AND WRITING THE NEW AMERICAN WEST

Middling anthology of writing about the American West, focusing on regional identity.

Where is the West? By geographic convention, it begins at the 98th Meridian, where the rainfall shades off into scarcity and the grass gets dry. By literary convention, it’s a state of mind, a place where freedom awaits and the sky and land are big enough to engulf a puny human. Many of the contributors to this collection wrestle with one or another of these categories, though an ever-sardonic Charles Bowden puts an end to the incertitude: “So based on the evidence, the case could be made that I live in the West and therefore I am a Westerner. But this claim is bullshit.” Bowden is in good company with the likes of Charles Daniel, Denise Chávez and Jim Harrison, all of whom serve up hymns of not-uncritical praise to the region. Yet the anthology is not wholly satisfactory. One problem is that the contributors are, in the main, the usual suspects—Rick Bass, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams and the like—who have already said elsewhere what they say here. Another, related to the first, is that these voices are overwhelmingly white (and, less overwhelmingly, academic); an anthology of this sort should be the first to assert by example and not sentiment alone that the West is a place where Anglo, Native and Hispanic cultures meet. That said, there are some excellent pieces here, including a standout essay by Jim Hepworth on growing up in a broken home among Blackfoot Indian basketball whizzes in a place where “the moonless sky above us stretched from horizon to horizon as black as the Lone Ranger’s mask, but it was also a sky filled with a billion planets and stars.” Bowden is customarily grim, but customarily right about things, while Harrison growls, nicely, “If the mountains were actually ennobling I would have noticed it by now.” Other contributors include Louise Erdrich, Antonya Nelson, C.J. Box, William Kittredge and Gary Snyder.

A collection that doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-292-72343-6

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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