While he wastes some time exposing cliches—Indians in westerns, unworthy sequels—that are cliches to expose, Eco...


Popular novelist (The Name of the Rose, 1983; Foucault's Pendulum, 1989) and notorious semiologist (at the Univ. of Bologna) Eco shows himself to be a journalist as well with this generally diverting volume of short pieces.

Eco calls these short essays diario minimo—minimal diaries—after the magazine column where he first published a series of such efforts (previously collected in Misreadings). The work presented here, much of which dates from the late '80s and early '90s, celebrates, or more often condemns, postmodern life in a style familiar to American readers. Occasional parodic fantasies in the mode of Borges or Calvino find Eco exploring the intriguing, if absurd, notion of a map in 1:1 scale, chronicling race relations in a future universe populated by humorously bizarre alien life-forms, or describing watches whose features cause one to lose track of the time. But Eco focuses on articulating his amusing complaints, analyzing our quotidian myths with light touches and lamentations that will recall Andy Rooney and Erma Bombeck—at best, an academic Mike Royko—sooner than Roland Barthes. Pieces on once-current events have been carefully excluded, but most of these essays remain essentially journalistic in their devotion to exploring contemporary life. The title piece pits Eco against an English hotel bureaucracy intent on making it difficult for him to refrigerate an expensive salmon that he has brought from Copenhagen; others mock "how-to'' essays—on fax machines and cellular telephones, for example; there are cautionary tales of encounters with Amtrak trains and Roman cabs. All have as their subtext the chaos brought in the wake of unbridled technological innovation and intercontinental travel.

While he wastes some time exposing cliches—Indians in westerns, unworthy sequels—that are cliches to expose, Eco entertains with his clever reflections and with his unique persona, the featured player in his stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-100136-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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