These 1950s Cornell lectures address a subject on which you would expect Nabokov to be nonpareil. And indeed things start off in brisk, trumpeting fashion, with a 1958 overview entitled "Russian Writers, Censors, and Reading": "If we exclude one medieval masterpiece"—it's very much like Nabokov not to tell us which it is—"the beautifully commodious thing about Russian prose is that it is all contained in the amphora of one round century." Then, hard on that, comes the book's north star, an essay on Gogol: "Fancy is fertile only when it is futile"; the "remarkable creative faculty of Russians . . . of working in a void." Yet as spectacular and epiphanous (and basic to Nabokov's belief in what literature should be) as this essay is, it is nothing new; it is an excerpt from Nabokov's great book on Gogol, which is still in print. The original material here consists, rather, of lesser lectures on other Russian masters. True, as in last year's Lectures on Literature (English and American masterworks), these textual guidings take us chapter-by-chapter through the book in question, with excerpts. But while those excerpts are unusually, unnecessarily copious—far bulkier than usual in critical writing—Nabokov's own interpretations and examinations often seem skimpy or capricious. He's tepid on Turgenev, lightly dismissive: "When Turgenev sits down to discuss a landscape, you notice that he is concerned with the trouser-crease of his phrase; he crosses his legs with an eye upon the color of his socks." And even more perfunctory are the quick back-of-the-hand smacks he gives to Dostoevsky (whom Nabokov sees as an overwrought playwright at best, no novelist) and the equally despised Gorky. Fuller, yet never quite full, are the discussions of the two Russians, apart from Gogol, whom Nabokov does approve of: Tolstoy and Chekhov. On Anna Karenina, he is as energetically specific as he was on Dickens' Bleak House in Lectures on Literature; he loves Chekhov for the "odd little details which at the same time are perfectly true to life." But, unlike last year's collection, this one never develops a consistent, coherent sense of fictional values: Nabokov begins by crowning Gogol for his supra-realism, for the plasticity and surprise of his prose—and then he completely switches his criteria to praise the humanitarian, minute qualities of Tolstoy and Chekhov . . . while damning their supra-realistic, surprising contemporaries. Furthermore, he never even acknowledges this contradiction; and so one merely finds him in alternating, extreme states here—in a mandarin pet over the writers he so unprofoundly dismisses, milkily docile and restrained about those post-Gogol writers he admires. Why this iffiness from a great critic hardly known for waffling? It could be, perhaps, that Nabokov felt himself in competition with these writers of his mother tongue. And this book may well be more revealing about VN himself than about his literary forebears. In any case, it's a disappointing follow-up to the previous, dazzling Lectures—with only one great essay (available elsewhere) and much of the space taken up by over-extensive excerpts.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1981

ISBN: 0156027763

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981

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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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