NATURAL OPIUM

SOME TRAVELERS' TALES

Peevish, polished travel reports by a novelist (Health and Happiness, 1990, etc.), biographer (Dashiell Hammett, 1983), and book critic (Terrorists and Novelists, 1982). Johnson's voyages, which range from Thailand to Utah, have taught her that ``travel brings us as nothing else does to a sense of ourselves,'' and that, when interacting with locals, ``the actual existence of these people is irrelevant to the passions...they arouse.'' This, then, is a self-referential, almost solipsistic approach to travel in which the voyager becomes an armored vehicle nosing through alien lands, shooting barbed observations at will. A typical interlude occurs on a ``tiny, shabby'' boat off Australia, when Johnson sneers that another passenger ``had no conversations, had never been anywhere...I thought about how sad it was to be him.'' Later, though, she admits that ``I know I've been a pig''; Johnson never hesitates to turn her guns on herself. Balancing this sniping is her splendid descriptive talent; stepping on to the Great Barrier Reef, she finds it ``entirely alive, made of eyeless formations of cabbagey creatures sucking and opening and closing, yearning towards tiny ponds of water.'' But sourness rules the day. In India, a potentially funny episode concerning a cracked bottle of wine turns into a fiasco; in Africa, Johnson scolds ivory traders; in Switzerland, ``there seemed to be nothing pink, light, luxurious, no concept of decor.'' The author's vision seems blinkered, in part, by her social class: In Japan, she complains that ``all is Vuitton bags and Chanel,'' and usually she finds peasants frightening or disgusting. Travels in England, South Africa, Egypt, Singapore, and China leave the same bitter aftertaste. Johnson's honesty is admirable: Isolation and discomfort are part of the traveler's lot, unacknowledged in the guidebooks. But most travelers find ways to overcome them, and very few make their readers suffer through the ordeal. Just like natural opium: crystalline images and insights that leave a nasty headache. Maybe Johnson should have stayed at home.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41346-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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