An up-and-down collection of essays on what a fiction writer does when he isn’t writing fiction.



A collection of what could be called literary travel criticism.

A professor of creative writing with an eclectic publishing career, LaSalle (What I Found Out About Her, 2014, etc.) has been anthologized as a travel writer (a piece from The Best Travel Writing 2010 concludes this volume) and earned praise for his award-winning fiction. Here, he explores terrain where his writing paths intersect, “traveling to a place where a document of literature I love is set and rereading the book there, to see what happens.” Written and originally published over a span of four decades, these essays find him contemplating Nathanael West in Los Angeles, experiencing the metaphysics of Borges in Buenos Aires, celebrating an obscure (in this country) Flaubert novel in Tunisia, following the alcohol-soaked ghost of Malcolm Lowry to Mexico. At one point he admits, “to be really frank, I am lost in a moment of wondering what the hell I am even doing on this trip, dodging some personal obligations back home and abandoning my writing for a few weeks; I know I’ve always used travel as a way to escape responsibility.” Yet he often obsesses over the courses he isn’t teaching and the fiction he isn’t writing while visiting locales far from his professional base of Austin, Texas, and his native Narragansett, Rhode Island. While establishing a bond, even an intimacy, with readers, he projects an air of superiority in his attitude toward better-known writers (“Richard Ford, a predictable writer who many critics tend to take too seriously”), fellow academics, younger females, and the “decidedly not-funny” Jimmy Kimmel. LaSalle exalts “the Flaubertian obsession of elevating prose itself to something close to sacred, the creation of it a visionary, semi-religious experience.” These are travel pieces (with the title essay the slightest), but they use travel mainly as a portal to literary celebration.

An up-and-down collection of essays on what a fiction writer does when he isn’t writing fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-938103-20-9

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



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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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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