Glorious distillations of a capacious mind and heart.

READ REVIEW

NONREQUIRED READING

PROSE PIECES

Nobel laureate Szymborska (Miracle Fair, 2001, etc.) reprints nearly a hundred pithy pieces about books from her many years as a newspaper columnist in Poland.

But don’t call them reviews. “I am and wish to remain a reader, an amateur, and a fan,” the poet writes. “Anyone insisting on ‘reviews’ will incur my displeasure.” Fair enough. In these brief nonreviews, Szymborska uses her eclectic reading habits to comment on everything from witchcraft trials to wall calendars. She does not, indeed, say much about the quality of the books at hand, nor does she often regurgitate or recommend. What she does do is allow her reading to jump-start her philosopher’s mind, her humorist’s imagination, and her poet’s pen. Irony abounds. In a piece about scientists, she quips, “From time to time people do appear who have a particularly strong resistance to obvious facts.” Along the way she takes on Carl Jung (didn’t he realize that people were telling him stories, not dreams?), beauty-obsessed women, deer hunters, biographers, autobiographers, poets overly interested in prosody, extraterrestrials, wax museums, Disney, tyrants’ abuses of history, anti-smokers (she’s a proud puffer), nudity, and home repair. Here are piquant disquisitions on the mysteries of talent (Hitchcock is her exemplar), on the poetry of Czelaw Milosz (which she greatly appreciates), on the absurdities of pseudo-science. She admires Thomas Mann and Samuel Pepys but mistrusts Dale Carnegie, wonders about the daily lives of Neanderthals, expatiates on the beauties of Polish birds and Andersen’s fairy tales, speculates about the meaning of life and death to a paramecium, worries about violence and about the psychological demands we make of our dogs. She recognizes that home-improvement books are wasted on the practically challenged, constructs a hilarious verbal family tree of Cleopatra, and observes that the three pictographs forming the word “peace” in Chinese are “already a microscopic poem.”

Glorious distillations of a capacious mind and heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-100660-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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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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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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