Displays in abundance the author’s astonishing ability to listen to—and record in prose that approaches perfect—the music of...

GETTING PERSONAL

SELECTED WRITINGS

In a motley collection of previously published pieces, novelist and essayist Lopate examines with unique intelligence and an unforgiving eye everything from the smell of his navel to a film by Godard.

The volume begins playfully with “Notes Toward an Introduction,” which the author never completed due to an untimely death (fear not: he lives). Fortunately, Lopate (Totally, Tenderly, Tragically, 1998, etc.) quickly abandons this unnecessary inanity and proceeds to offer evidence why he is one of America’s most admired essayists. The 29 pieces form a sort of rough memoir, beginning with a reminiscence of his early years of school (his first grade teacher had a glass eye) and concluding with a wrenching description of the death of his father in 1995, followed by a brief mediation on love serving as a sort of encore. Some of these essays are—or soon will be—classics of the genre. “Samson and Delilah and the Kids,” which considers the impact on his own life of both the biblical and Cecil B. DeMille versions of this classic battle of the sexes, is a brilliant instance of how research and scholarship can illuminate the most intimate of concerns. A piece about his infatuation with a Korean woman appears in some ways to be a transcript of everyman’s imagination. Lopate can wax silly (he writes about shaving a beard and buying a cat and shushing noisy people in movie theaters), somber (he tells about the deaths of colleagues, one by suicide, another by cancer), bemused (he wonders why a relationship with a woman named Claire never seemed to ignite), and (fortunately not often) a tad self-righteous. One of his longest, most tedious narratives tells about a production of Uncle Vanya he once mounted with elementary-school children: it turned out wonderfully, and everyone learned ever so much. Thank goodness this is not typical.

Displays in abundance the author’s astonishing ability to listen to—and record in prose that approaches perfect—the music of his own thoughts as he sometimes stumbles, sometimes glides through life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-465-04173-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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