BAY COUNTRY Reflections on the Chesapeake by Tom Horton (Ticknor & Fields: $7.95)
Winner of the 1988 John Burroughs Medal, this collection of essays by a Baltimore Sun environmental writer combines a genuine love for the landscape and wildlife that surrounds us with a measured assessment of the incursions made by man into the environment.
“I never met a tree I didn’t like,” Horton begins his essay about the vanishing elm. His language is nostalgic as he writes about Windmill Point on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where he caught the “biggest silver- and black-striped rockfish a boy of 12 ever saw. . . .”
While it was the rockfish, or striped bass, that put a stop to New York City’s controversial Westway project (“a federal judge found that a landfill, needed for the project to achieve its lucrative commercial potential, would illegally devastate acres of rockfish habitat along the Hudson’s edge”), Horton also notes that it was the 33rd-floor ledge of a high-rise building in downtown Baltimore that saw the hatching of wild peregrine falcon chicks.
Horton “is no wilderness freak,” wrote Richard Eder in his review. “He loves wilderness and he also loves the shaping gestures that mankind has made upon it for all the centuries before powerful technology turned each gesture into an obliterating Gulliver’s footprint.”
TWICE AS LESS Black English and the Performance of Black Students in Mathematics and Science by Eleanor Wilson Orr (W.W. Norton: $8.95)
“The car traveling twice as fast would take twice as less hours to cover each mile,” Orr quotes one of her students as saying.
Unlike teachers who simply dismiss black English vernacular (BEV) as “badly learned English,” Eleanor Wilson Orr (founder of the Hawthorne School in Washington and a high school teacher of mathematics and science for more than 30 years) shows that mathematical stumbling blocks for some black students lie not in an unwillingness to learn but in a misapprehension of specific words in standard English and hence a misunderstanding of quantitative relations.
Most instructive is Orr’s explanation of “how the students combine the standard English as and than modes of expressing comparisons and how the resulting combinations are related to a lack of distinction between addition and multiplication and between subtraction and division and thus to a confusion between twice and half. “
Black English vernacular, “like any other language, is rule-governed,” Orr maintains. As a judge ruled in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 1979, teachers “could do a better job teaching BEV speakers if the teachers knew more about the features of the language the children brought to school.”
“Orr has a revealing story to tell,” Milton Chen wrote in these pages.
THE KNOCKOUT ARTIST by Harry Crews (Perennial Library/ Harper & Row: $7.95)
Eugene “Knockout” Biggs had been a professional boxer with 72 knockouts to his name, but these days the only person he knocks out is literally himself: With the theme of “Rocky” as background music, he spins out in the center of a boxing ring, shows swift, lateral movements, blows his mouthpiece out of his mouth, lets his glass jaw go entirely slack, catches himself on the chin with a vicious right cross and down he goes--for a large sum of money.
The characters Eugene meets after his manager abandons him in New Orleans are a far cry from the kind of folks he knew back home on the farm in Georgia. “Oyster Boy,” an adult homosexual businessman (J. Alfred Blasingame), has a penchant for crawling naked on all fours with a leash around his neck. Pete, another former boxer, now runs the movie projector in a theater specializing in “snuff” films--where the murders seen on the screen depict real-life murders. Most are hookers, transvestites, transsexuals, homosexuals and drug addicts.
The plot hinges on Blasingame’s desire to acquire a real professional boxer. Knockout and Pete find a promising Cajun boy and his training begins. In the end, Knockout decides that the old dirt-poor Georgia farm wasn’t so bad after all.
THE RETURN OF MR. HOLLYWOOD by Josh Greenfeld (Carroll & Graf: $8.95)
Larry Lazar, director, auteur and hero of Josh Greenfeld’s wry, comic novel, has “a terrific office” and “a terrific parking space too.” He also has “a terrific wife, two sensational kids and no problems with fuel injectors, anti-smog devices or turbochargers in any of his cars.” What he does not have, however, is “a winner.” In other words, his last movie is a dud.
“The Return of Mr. Hollywood” is a deadpan account of what happens when one of Hollywood’s biggest sleazes (Lazar) confronts “real reality” (real life) when his mother dies and he must fly to New York for her funeral.
Lazar’s family saga is wild and amusing, but “The Return of Mr. Hollywood” is at its best in its dead-on send-up of Hollywood and Realpolitik big studio gamesmanship: Lazar hustling the neurasthenic studio proxy to sign off on his latest project; Lazar dodging an irate former “collaborationist” (a pretentious director’s word for his screenwriter) who believes, accurately, that Lazar has stolen his idea (a guy has an affair with his girlfriend’s daughter) for a movie called “Remember, Remember.”
As Joan Didion writes in her introduction, “The Return of Mr. Hollywood” is “an inside job, and a fine one, true to Hollywood because it is about more than Hollywood, as is Hollywood itself.”