Basbanes’s profound passion never falls into pedantry: readers will emerge with new knowledge, new worries, and enormous...

A SPLENDOR OF LETTERS

THE PERMANENCE OF BOOKS IN AN IMPERMANENT WORLD

An erudite, often lively analysis of the disappearance of texts thanks to time, weather, worms, warriors, decay, poor judgment, and the computer.

When does this author find time to read? As in his other work (Among the Gently Mad, 2002, etc.), Basbanes comprises records of his Marco Polo–esque travels, myriad quotations from his countless interviews, and a familiarity with ancient texts (and culture and history) that is at times daunting. Here, peripatetic bibliophile Basbanes examines several issues of enormous importance in BiblioLand. First, the silent thinning of collections by libraries looking for additional space and concerned with a book’s failure to circulate (or be consulted). The author is alarmed that unique and/or rare titles are disappearing in this fashion at a growing rate. Basbanes also tells the stories of some of the most famous fragments in literary history—e.g., Gilgamesh (about a third is missing) and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He examines how armies have assailed libraries with particular relish (the Romans sacked Carthage, the Serbs blasted the National Library in Sarajevo in the 1990s, Iraqi looters picked clean the National Library of Iraq earlier this year). Most touching is the story of a library in Belgium, burned in WWI, rebuilt, burned again in WWII, and once again rebuilt. The author discusses the odious practice of “book-breaking” (removing pages, usually illustrations, for separate sale) and explores the nettlesome issue of multiple versions of single texts (Leaves of Grass, for instance). But most distressing is the chapter about time’s ravages. That intoxicating odor of libraries, he reminds us, is the smell of decaying paper. The last third deals with the complications of electronic storage and the controversies of e-books.

Basbanes’s profound passion never falls into pedantry: readers will emerge with new knowledge, new worries, and enormous respect.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-008287-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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