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Volume nine strains a bit to achieve its predecessors' diversity by stretching the definition of ``essay.'' Take, for example, the two longest contributions. In ``Trucking Through the AIDS Belt'' Ted Conover spends time on the road with Central African truckers (``true museums of disease,'' a doctor calls them), while in ``The Last Shot'' Darcy Frey hangs out with black high school basketball players, examining the ``cherished parable'' that college scholarships provide a way out of the ghetto. (Frey has expanded this piece into a book. See p. 1185.) Frey's piece is excellent; Conover's, though more diffuse, is still pretty good. Yet it's questionable whether these in-depth reporting pieces can really be considered ``narrative essays'' (Kidder's term). Other entries collected by series editor Atwan and Pulitzer Prize-winning guest editor Kidder (Old Friends, 1993, etc.) hew more closely to the form. There is cultural commentary: Adam Gopnik on the ``High Morbid Manner'' in contemporary art, Cynthia Ozick finding echoes of Henry James in Salman Rushdie's appearance at a Paris seminar, David Denby celebrating a Dead White Male (Homer) on his return to Columbia nearly 30 years after graduation. There are reflections on our relationship to our habitat (William Langewiesche's marvelously lucid account of aviation's coming of age) and the animals we share it with (Vicki Hearne, in the collection's most delightfully offbeat entry, finding ``deep knowledge about a trained-orangutan act on a Las Vegas stage''). Disappointingly, the collection has only one essay on our political and social relations: James McPherson's vapid consideration of Martin Luther King's ideas about community. Lastly, there are lively autobiographical sketches. Treating a sadistic male patient, Lauren Slater finds surprising links to her anorexic past, while Lucy Grealy, assessing years of reconstructive surgery, ponders the link between the face and the self. Outshining them all is the series' ever-bright star, Stanley Elkin. In incandescent prose, he writes about the worst days of his life (``the season of my madness''); the result is both harrowing and wildly funny. A solid addition to an annual series that has won many plaudits.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-69254-7

Page Count: 321

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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