An invigorating collection of passionate, spirited voices.




Pithy literary musings on art, culture, politics and life selected from the Threepenny Review’s Table Talk section.

Featuring essays published between 1990 and 2013, the anthology emulates a gathering of critics, philosophers, writers and artists in lively conversation. Topics vary from Sven Birkerts’ battle with a stray cat, mirroring his own restlessness, to Steve Vineberg’s commentary on the “seductiveness of celebrity” so well-articulated in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation. While some contributions are time-specific, most resonate with a universality that goes beyond their publication dates. Life’s exasperating moments turn into humor in Dwight Garner’s account of moving preparations, which involved “Packing (and Lugging) My Library.” Irene Oppenheim’s attempt to help a neighbor becomes a lesson in the “art and etiquette [of] delivering phone books.” John Berger flexes his observational muscles, describing the mysterious ritual a Vietnamese woman goes through at a pool in Paris, and Greil Marcus, writing on the discovery of a 1925 Dorothea Lange photo of his mother, marvels at the photographer’s revelatory power. A lament for things lost echoes through several essays. Though technology can make life more convenient, Arthur Lubow wonders what is “getting left out” in our digitized lives and worries that “what’s new is a thinned-out version of what was old.” Evelyn Toynton mourns the closing of the British Museum Reading Room in service of efficiency, a rare space that “restores the old sense of time, a contemplative rather than harried awareness of its passing.” Claire Messud rues the disappearance from modern novels of digressions, replaced with reader-desired “closure.” “Real life,” she writes, “for all we try to impose order upon it, is but an endless string of digressions.” Without them, she writes, life would be “exceedingly dull.” Not so with this assemblage of ideas, critical thinking and wry observations, which is itself a swell digression. Other contributors include Michael Gorra, Javier Marias, Sigrid Nunez and Robert Reich.

An invigorating collection of passionate, spirited voices.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1619024571

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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