PIECES AND PONTIFICATIONS

Minor Mailer—at great length. The "Pontifications" are assorted interviews-with-Mailer over the decades, with reckless, occasionally amusing or shrewd comments on: masturbation; writing style; The Deer Park; Katharine Anne Porter (who "used to be respected. . .the way a cardinal is respected—weak people get to their knees when the cardinal goes by"); drugs; drink; Communism; artists vs. scientists; Manson; Mick Jagger; women's lib ("Let's face it, they're winning their war"); existentialism; karma; abortion; the Pill; homosexuality; Anne Beattie's work ("whenever fiction doesn't know where it's going, then there's a tendency to return to the novel of manners"); The New Yorker ("awful" in its out-of-touch periods, but "they hold the act together when nothing's happening"); Reagan; Borges and Marquez ("the two most important writers in the world today"); Hemingway, Freud, Muhammad Ali. Somewhat more focused and coherent, then, are the dozen short and long essays—most from magazines. There are two large-scale efforts. In "Of a Small and Modest Malignancy," Mailer (third-personing himself throughout) regards "his own wretched collaboration with the multimillion-celled nausea-machine, that Christkiller of the ages—television": he recreates all his sweaty TV talk-show appearances, offers a superb vignette of Dorothy Parker, and goes after old enemies (Capote, Vidal, Janet Flanner, the FBI) with babyish, hilarious brio. "A Harlot High and Low" is less engaging—with its disjointed, admittedly paranoid speculations on the vast web of Howard Hughes/CIA/Watergate connections. But Mailer can still be a solid literary critic—with a canny comparison of the Hemingway and Henry Miller careers (Mailer knows the Art of Reputation better than anybody). As film critic—on Last Tango in Paris—he is more flashy than thoughtful: "we have been given a bath in shit with no reward." And Mailer-the-social-critic is here with a piece on graffiti: the "excrescence" of "slum populations chilled on the one side by the bleakness of modern design, and brain-cooked on the other by comic strips and TV ads with zooming letters." No surprises, then, and rarely deep—but also rarely dull: Mailer-mania for the sizable following.

Pub Date: May 1, 1982

ISBN: 0316544183

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982

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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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