A brutally real and unrelentingly raw memoir that is as inspiring as it is horrific.

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IT'S WHAT I DO

A PHOTOGRAPHER'S LIFE OF LOVE AND WAR

A remarkable journalistic achievement from a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellowship winner that crystalizes the last 10 years of global war and strife while candidly portraying the intimate life of a female photojournalist.

Over the last decade, Addario has been periodically beaten, robbed, kidnapped, shot at and sexually assaulted from one end of the Middle East and North Africa to the other. Risking her life for images that might change public policy, she ran into Taliban fighters who fired on her in the Korengal Valley, Gadhafi loyalists who imprisoned her in Libya and Israeli soldiers who abused her outside the Gaza Strip. A deadly car accident in Pakistan nearly claimed her life. Many of Addario's friends and colleagues did die during that time, while lovers faded away and family members freaked out. But such was the cost of the author’s life’s work. Told with unflinching candor, the award-winning photographer brings an incredible sense of humanity to all the battlefields of her life. Especially affecting is the way in which Addario conveys the role of gender and how being a woman has impacted every aspect of her personal and professional lives. Whether dealing with ultrareligious zealots or overly demanding editors, being a woman with a camera has never been an easy task. Somewhere amid Addario’s dizzying odyssey, she also became a mother. However, instead of slowing her down, it only deepened the battle-hardened correspondent’s insight into the lives of those she so courageously sought to photograph. “Just as in Somalia,” she writes, “when I had felt my baby moving inside me as I witnessed the suffering of other infants, I could suddenly understand, in a new, profound, and enraging way, the way most people in the world lived.”

A brutally real and unrelentingly raw memoir that is as inspiring as it is horrific.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1594205378

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Unlike many rock star memoirs, there’s no sense that this book is a chore or a marketing effort. It’s revealing and...

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HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL

A MEMOIR

First-class account of the life and times of an essential riot grrrl and the band she helped create.

In this debut memoir, Brownstein, co-founder of the iconic punk band Sleater-Kinney, traces her evolution from the daughter of a secure but secretly unhappy home—closeted gay father, anorexic mother—to a gawky teenage rock fan and, ultimately, to becoming an artist in her own right. (She does not delve into her work on Portlandia.) The story of her life is also, inevitably, the story of her own band: meeting (and having a close but tortuous relationship with) co-founder Corin Tucker, the endless process of writing and co-writing songs and guitar leads, firing drummers (they went through three before striking gold with Janet Weiss), and the way life on the road both forges and fractures relationships. For Sleater-Kinney fans, the book is an absolute must, as it not only describes the rise of the band, but also delves into the making of every album. Furthermore, for a band in which song authorship has never been perfectly clear, Brownstein gives some insight as to who wrote what. More than that, the book is deeply personal, an act of self-discovery by a writer both telling her story and coming to understand herself at the same time. “In Sleater-Kinney,” she writes, “each song, each album, built an infrastructure, fresh skeletons.” The author writes focused and uncluttered prose, choosing the best, most telling details, as she recounts stories that show what it means to perform for the first time and what it means for a woman to be both a fan and a star in a staunchly male-dominated world.

Unlike many rock star memoirs, there’s no sense that this book is a chore or a marketing effort. It’s revealing and riveting. On the page as in her songs, Brownstein finds the right words to give shape to experience.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59448-663-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative.

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THE OREGON TRAIL

AN AMERICAN JOURNEY

A crazy whim of a trip on a covered wagon turns into an inspired exploration of American identity.

Journalist Buck (Shane Comes Home, 2005, etc.) chronicles his summerlong journey across the “Great American Desert” in a covered wagon, an arduous, astonishing journey that traced the same exodus of more than 400,000 pioneers across the Oregon Trail in the 15 years before the Civil War. The author and his brother had the knowledge and wherewithal to make such an ambitious journey largely because of their upbringing in rural New Jersey, where their father, a Look magazine editor and former pilot, kept horses and wagons and took the family of 11 children on a similar, though shorter, journey into Pennsylvania in the summer of 1958. Once Buck realized he could not manage three mules and a wagon all by himself, he enlisted his big, enormously capable brother, and the two procured the authentic 19th-century Peter Schuttler wagon and three specially bred American mules (each with its own wonderfully eccentric personality) and all the necessary equipment for breakdowns and repairs. The preparations were daunting, and Buck fascinatingly walks readers through all of them, all with an eye to how the early settlers made the actual journey, from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley, Oregon: 2,000-plus miles of carefully plotted trail, encompassing high desert and mountains, rivers and shaky bridges, thunderstorms, scant water, and patches of no road. Throughout, the travelers were, by necessity, required to frequently jettison supplies. “See America Slowly” was the theme of the men’s boyhood trip, a theme resurrected sweetly for this one. The journey encouraged delighted observers to shelter and feed the men and mules, often in the towns’ communal rodeo grounds, and allowed the brothers to reconnect over childhood memories and with the American land they cherished.

By turns frankly hilarious, historically elucidating, emotionally touching, and deeply informative.

Pub Date: June 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5916-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir.

THE GIRL FROM HUMAN STREET

GHOSTS OF MEMORY IN A JEWISH FAMILY

In an effort to understand the modern Jewish experience, distinguished New York Times columnist Cohen (Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble, 2005, etc.) examines his family history of displacement, despair and resilience.

The author has always prided himself on confronting the truth in his writing, but he knew that his work allowed him to escape the more difficult task of articulating a deeper personal truth. In this honest and lucid book, the British-born Cohen tells how his Lithuanian Jewish ancestors came to South Africa. Tolerated by white South Africans because they were also white-skinned, the author’s relatives made prosperous lives as business people while avoiding the fate of millions of other Jews in Nazi Europe. Despite their successes, however, members of both sides of his family were plagued by mental illness. The genes that caused it “formed an unbroken chain with the past,” which many of them tried to ignore. Cohen focuses in particular on the tragic story of his mother, June. Gifted and beautiful, she was also bipolar. When she and her family relocated to London, her symptoms surfaced and remained with her for the rest of her life. Cohen links June’s unraveling with her sense of being a stranger in a strange land. Like one of his mother’s relatives who ended up in Israel and eventually committed suicide, “[June] was a transplant who did not take.” All too aware of how many South African Jews turned a blind eye to the problem of apartheid in South Africa, Cohen also examines Israel’s evolution into a colonial nation that oppresses Arab minorities. Millennia of persecution and eternal exile have made a Jewish homeland a necessity, yet Israel will never fully succeed as a state until peaceful coexistence—of the kind white and black South Africans have slowly worked toward—becomes a reality.

With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0307594662

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

Unlike other, neater narratives of being lost and found, Connors’ story—told with harrowing insight and fierce prose—is...

ALL THE WRONG PLACES

A LIFE LOST AND FOUND

Connors (Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, 2012) reflects candidly on the years he spent unmoored after a family tragedy; he continuously found himself in places he felt apart from.

“A natty socialist at the Wall Street Journal. A white guy in a black neighborhood. Strange how comfortable my discomfort became,” writes the author, who, at the age of 23, after the shocking death of his brother, turned completely inward, “a man shrouded in almost total self-regard." As Connors struggled to find a place for his pain where it wouldn’t devour him, he stumbled into a career in journalism, even after he convinced himself he had given up on the business. “But the fact was I’d borrowed twenty-five grand to pay for an education in print journalism,” he writes, “so I had little choice but to pursue a career in print journalism.” At his desk in the Leisure & Arts section of the WSJ, surrounded by conservative editorial writers, Connors proudly displayed his left-wing politics by hanging posters of Emma Goldman and Ralph Nader. He had passionate, failed affairs and emotionally charged encounters with his neighbors as one of the only white faces in his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Connors' missing sense of purpose is keenly felt through passages that combine lyricism with dark humor to draw lines between grief and the uncanny. His search toward understanding his brother's death—which included studying graphic images from the autopsy report and reaching out to his brother’s ex-girlfriends—ultimately ends in a place of belonging. But the redemptive ending of this story, which Connors smartly does not dwell on, is far less compelling than the unique and brutally raw accounts of his search for connection.

Unlike other, neater narratives of being lost and found, Connors’ story—told with harrowing insight and fierce prose—is messy and incomplete and makes no apologies for being anything but.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0393088762

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

De Waal’s poetically recounted journey is a revelation, as well: of the power of obsession and the lust for purity.

THE WHITE ROAD

JOURNEY INTO AN OBSESSION

A lyrical melding of art history, memoir, and philosophical meditation.

Ceramic artist de Waal (The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss, 2010, etc.) is obsessed with white porcelain, “thin as silver…white as driven snow,” a material so exceptional that it invites comparison to “smoke coiling up from a chimney, or from incense on an altar, or mist from a valley.” Porcelain gets its quality from two kinds of mineral: petunse, a fairly common stone, which yields amazing translucence and hardness; and the rarer kaolin, a soft, white earth that imparts plasticity. In short passages of allusive, radiant prose, the author chronicles his journeys in search of both the materials and the history of porcelain, discovering along the way men as obsessed as he. In 14th-century China, the Yongle emperor coveted porcelains of the purest white—“white as transcendence,” de Waal writes—with finely drawn decorations under a lucent glaze. In 17th-century France, Louis XIV built the Trianon de Porcelaine, filled with Delft imitations until a porcelain industry began in Rouen, Saint-Cloud, and Limoges. In early-18th-century Germany, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, “philosopher and mathematician and observer of how the world changes,” pursued his investigations in Dresden’s Goldhaus, a laboratory for natural philosophers and alchemists. In Cornwall, the Quaker William Cookworthy and the enterprising Wedgwoods perfected porcelain manufacture. Shockingly, in 1940, the Allach Porcelain Factory moved to Dachau, where inmates made figurines beloved by Nazis. Amassing a cache of kaolin, each with idiosyncratic properties, de Waal created an installation of 2,455 porcelain pots, glazed in white. For the author, white has mystical resonance: “White is truth; it is the glowing cloud on the horizon that shows the Lord is coming. White is wisdom….White brings us all into focus….It reveals. It is Revelation itself.”

De Waal’s poetically recounted journey is a revelation, as well: of the power of obsession and the lust for purity.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-28926-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

An eloquent testimony to the war’s enduring, violent impact.

A GUEST AT THE SHOOTERS' BANQUET

MY GRANDFATHER'S SS PAST, MY JEWISH FAMILY, A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

The daughter of a Lithuanian Catholic mother and Russian Jewish father, Gabis (The Wild Field, 1994) brings her sensibility as a poet and indefatigable energy as a historian to this engrossing memoir.

As she notes, the author’s family spoke little about their past. Gabis knew that her maternal grandparents had come to America after World War II; that her grandfather had fought bravely against Russian invaders; that her grandmother had been arrested and sent to labor camps. However, several years ago, she found out more: her grandfather had been a Nazi security chief in a town where at least two mass slaughters had occurred. Shocked, Gabis suddenly recalled anti-Semitic remarks he made as she was growing up. For the next several years, she became obsessed with one question: was the man she had loved a murderer? The author’s research involved repeated trips to Israel, Poland, and Lithuania, where she still has relatives. In each place, she interviewed Holocaust survivors whose persecution she recounts in moving detail; in Lithuania, she talked with witnesses to Russian and German occupations. Lithuania, she discovered, “as a country…is indistinguishable from the invaders, collaborators, ghosts, heroines, thieves, defenders, and healers it contains….It’s those who know nothing about what went on behind closed doors and those who stood by and watched, those who shrugged and walked away.” The author also interviewed her aunts, whose stories were contradictory. Gabis petitioned for information from Lithuanian archives, discovered documents at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and eventually amassed some 400 pages of archival material. Her journey was frequently interrupted by obstacles: emergency heart surgery that delayed a research trip; a destructive flood in her apartment that damaged documents; food poisoning; her husband’s illness. But the greatest obstacle proved to be the blurred, slippery past, which continually frustrated her. “If I didn’t unravel” her grandfather’s mystery, she thinks, “it would unravel me.”

An eloquent testimony to the war’s enduring, violent impact.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-261-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze.

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BLACKOUT

REMEMBERING THE THINGS I DRANK TO FORGET

A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass.

Addiction’s death grip and the addict’s struggle to escape it is an old story, but in Salon personal essays editor Hepola’s hands, it’s modern, raw, and painfully real—and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author’s boozy misadventures—bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings’ escapades missing from memory—they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. This is a drinking memoir, yes, and fans of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story (1996) will recognize similar themes, but Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman’s fight to be seen for who she really is. Generation X women, in particular, will recognize an adolescence spent puzzling over the rash of parental divorces and counting calories as a way to stay in control of a changing world. Hepola strews pop-culture guideposts throughout, so any woman who remembers both Tiger Beat magazine and the beginning of the war on drugs will find herself right at home. It was an age when girls understood that they weren’t destined to be housewives but were not so clear on the alternatives, and it’s no wonder the pressure led many to seek the distance that drinking promised. Promises, of course, can lead to all sorts of trouble, and Hepola tells the naked truth of just how much trouble she got into and how difficult it was to pull herself out. Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible.

A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4555-5459-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Jefferson swings the narrative back and forth through her life, exploring the tides of racism, opportunity, and dignity...

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NEGROLAND

A MEMOIR

From a Pulitzer Prize–winning theater and book critic, a memoir about being raised in upper-class black Chicago, where families worked tirelessly to distance themselves as much from lower-class black people as from white people.

Born in 1947, Jefferson (On Michael Jackson, 2006) has lived through an era that has seen radical shifts in the way black people are viewed and treated in the United States. The civil rights movement, shifting viewpoints on affirmative action, and the election of the first black president, with all the promise and peril it held: the author has borne witness to changes that her parents could only have dreamed about. Jefferson was born in a small part of Chicago where a “black elite” lived, to a father who was the head of pediatrics at Provident, the country’s oldest black hospital, and a socialite mother. The author describes a segment of the population intent on simultaneously distinguishing itself from both white people and lower-class black people and drawing from both groups to forge its own identity. She writes about being raised in a mindset that demanded the best from her and her family, while she also experienced resentment regarding the relative lack of recognition for the achievements they had earned. Jefferson tells a story of her parents seeing Sammy Davis Jr. on stage, early in his career, when he hadn’t yet established himself enough to completely let his own unique style shine through. Her parents could see the change coming, though—the self-assuredness in his performance—and they saw that as emblematic of their own rise.

Jefferson swings the narrative back and forth through her life, exploring the tides of racism, opportunity, and dignity while also provocatively exploring the inherent contradictions for Jefferson and her family members in working so tirelessly to differentiate themselves.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0307378453

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

An inventive, beautifully crafted memoir, wise and insightful.

THE FOLDED CLOCK

A DIARY

Reflections on being and becoming.

Novelist, Guggenheim Fellow and co-founder of the Believer magazine, Julavits (Writing/Columbia Univ.; co-editor, The Vanishers, 2012, etc.), now in her mid-40s, noticed that the smallest unit of time she experiences is no longer a minute, a day, nor even a week, but years. That disquieting perception inspired this book: “Since I am suddenly ten years older than I was, it seems, one year ago, I decided to keep a diary.” Time is much on her mind in gently philosophical entries that do not appear chronologically but instead are disrupted and reordered, recounting two years of her life in New York, where she and her husband teach; Maine, where she grew up yearning to leave and now spends joyful summers; and Germany, where the family lived during her husband’s fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. Admitting that she is a “sub-sub-subtextual” reader of the world, Julavits analyzes her marriage; the needs and growing independence of her young son and daughter; her visits to a psychic, with whom she discusses the mystical power of objects and synchronicity (“My life seems marked by a high degree of coincidence and recursion,” Julavits confesses); former lovers; her aspirations as a writer; and such guilty pleasures as watching the reality series The Bachelorette, whose “love language” she and her husband gleefully parse. Other pastimes include shopping on eBay, which, she writes, “has immeasurably improved my quality of life more than doctors or drugs”; succumbing to temptation at yard sales; and swimming, despite her overwhelming fear of sharks. Some entries are slyly funny, gossipy and irreverent; others, quietly intimate, reveal recurring depression and anxiety, “alternate states of being” to which she gratefully returns: “When you become you again, you can actually greet yourself. You can welcome yourself back.”

An inventive, beautifully crafted memoir, wise and insightful.

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53898-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

An uncommonly entertaining story replete with consistent wit and lethal weaponry.

THE WORLD'S LARGEST MAN

A MEMOIR

Oxford American humor columnist Key (English/Savannah Coll. of Art and Design) pens a memoir about his father, a man with “the emotional tenderness of a Soviet farm tractor.”

As a boy, the author was partial to sock puppets, calligraphy, and poems tapped out on an electric typewriter. Even so, “Pop” attempted to teach his son all the necessary outdoor skills so important to a growing boy, including contact sports, fishing, fighting, and the frequent employment of firearms to “kill shit.” (In a “Note to the Reader,” the author writes, “I have changed the names of many characters…because most of those people own guns.”) Those were the pertinent and suitable activities for boys coming of age in the environs of Coldwater, Mississippi. Key’s relationships with his loving mother, a badass elder brother, and, eventually, a beloved wife and cherished children all connect with Pop and the author’s position as the strange scion of a big man with a huge head on a red neck. The author eventually evolved from a blameless, scared kid to an innocent, scared adult as he learned the odd joy of danger and how to wear a bow tie. Pop evolved, as well, as the paterfamilias who learned to disregard his instinctive rule for human contact: men over here, women over there. Key had his basic training in American civilization, particularly as practiced in the not-so-long-ago South. His spouse supervised such matters as babies—how to make them, diaper them, and raise them—though she is never mentioned by name. Forget the touch of Jean Shepherd, the satire of Gary Shteyngart, or the dash of Dave Barry; Key’s talent is all his own, and it is solid. Consistently seasoned with laughs, this memoir is adroitly warm and deep when it is called for.

An uncommonly entertaining story replete with consistent wit and lethal weaponry.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-235149-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

In constructing his aching, poignant narrative, Mann offers a fine meditation on fate and on how “the story of addiction is...

LORD FEAR

A MEMOIR

An ambitious, literary-minded memoir of the author’s relationship with his late brother, a much older heroin addict.

Mann (Writing/Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere2013) works on a number of different levels, delivering a narrative of addiction, memory, and family dynamics; of the attempt to see someone through the eyes and different memories of other people; and of the challenges faced by a writer as he attempts to fulfill his literary ambitions. Ultimately, this is a memoir about trying to write a memoir: the challenge, the impossibility, and the catharsis. It begins at the funeral of Mann’s older brother, Josh, since the author, 13 at the time, “once read a Philip Roth novel that begins over a grave.” Before he’s done, he will invoke Nabokov, Burroughs, Woolf, and Kincaid as literary antecedents whose inspiration has informed his own work. Unlike, say, James Frey, Mann drops his cards on the table from the start, admitting in his author’s note that though the focus of the book is a real person, “it is not, however, an exact representation of his life. People’s memories contradict one another, and many of the scenes are my imagined versions of the stories they told me, complete with my own subjectivity.” In the book, in death, and in the memories of the author and others, Josh is larger than life, a person who “could have been a rock star so easily. Some kind of star,” as a friend recalls. He was a would-be musician, a would-be writer, the lover of all sorts of gorgeous, exotic women, a troubled child from before the author’s birth, and a junkie who died alone, unexpected and inexplicably, after he’d shown his family and friends he’d cleaned up.

In constructing his aching, poignant narrative, Mann offers a fine meditation on fate and on how “the story of addiction is the story of memory, and how we never get it right.”

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1101870242

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

A book that will challenge readers as much as the author has challenged herself.

THE ARGONAUTS

A fiercely provocative and intellectually audacious memoir that focuses on motherhood, love and gender fluidity.

Nelson (Critical Studies/CalArts; The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, 2012, etc.) is all over the map in a memoir that illuminates Barthes and celebrates anal eroticism (charging that some who have written about it hide behind metaphor, whereas she’s plain from the first paragraph that she’s more interested in the real deal). This is a book about transitioning, transgendering, transcending and any other trans- the author wants to connect. But it’s also a love story, chronicling the relationship between the author and her lover, the artist Harry Dodge, who was born a female (or at least had a female name) but has more recently passed for male, particularly with the testosterone treatments that initially concerned the author before she realized her selfishness. The relationship generally requires “pronoun avoidance.” This created a problem in 2008, when the New York Times published a piece on Dodge’s art but insisted that the artist “couldn’t appear on their pages unless you chose Mr. or Ms….You chose Ms., ‘to take one for the team.’ ” Nelson was also undergoing body changes, through a pregnancy she had desired since the relationship flourished. She recounts 2011 as “the summer of our changing bodies.” She elaborates: “On the surface it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more ‘male,’ mine more and more ‘female.’ But that’s not how it felt on the inside.” The author turns the whole process and concept of motherhood inside out, exploring every possible perspective, blurring the distinctions among the political, philosophical, aesthetic and personal, wondering if her writing is violating the privacy of her son-to-be as well as her lover. Ultimately, Harry speaks within these pages, as the death of Dodge’s mother and the birth of their son bring the book to its richly rewarding climax.

A book that will challenge readers as much as the author has challenged herself.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-707-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

A funny book for any serious reader.

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BETWEEN YOU & ME

CONFESSIONS OF A COMMA QUEEN

New Yorker editor since 1978, Norris provides an educational, entertaining narrative about grammar, spelling and punctuation.

The author devotes chapters to commas (who knew a printer more or less invented comma usage in 1490?); apostrophes; hyphens; the difference between "that" and "which"; the proper usage of "who" and "whom" (would Ernest Hemingway have published For Who the Bell Tolls?); dealing with profanity in a national magazine (a chapter in which Norris demonstrates that not all copy editors are prudish); which dictionary (if any) to rely on; and, as a bonus, an ode to pencils with and without erasers. Raised in the Cleveland area, Norris had a vague notion growing up of being a writer. But after attending college, she did not know how to proceed toward that goal, so she worked jobs that included delivering milk to homes, packaging cheese in a factory for sale to supermarkets and washing dishes in a restaurant. The possibility of an editing job at the New Yorker arose only because Norris' brother knew an important person there. Once at the New Yorker, the author engaged in spirited debates with more senior copy editors about all manner of decisions about grammar, punctuation and spelling. Though she observed the rules, she also began to realize that sometimes she had to compromise due to the fact that accomplished writers for the magazine followed their own logic. Norris delivers a host of unforgettable anecdotes about such famed New Yorker writers as Philip Roth, Pauline Kael, John McPhee and George Saunders. In countless laugh-out-loud passages, Norris displays her admirable flexibility in bending rules when necessary. She even makes her serious quest to uncover the reason for the hyphen in the title of the classic novel Moby-Dick downright hilarious.

A funny book for any serious reader.

Pub Date: April 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0393240184

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

A powerful, above-average literary memoir.

BAREFOOT TO AVALON

Ruminations on family and success, in the context of a fraternal tragedy.

Novelist Payne (Back to Wando Passo, 2006, etc.), a founding faculty member of the Queens University MFA Program, builds his memoir around an unbearable burden. In 2000, George A., his charismatic yet bipolar brother, died in a crash while helping the author move long-distance. In the past, they shared a charmed but dark Southern childhood, their genteel mother overwhelmed by their manipulative, alcoholic father. “My oldest competitor and ally,” writes Payne, “he was the only one who knew or ever would know what that time and place had been for me.” Although George had suffered manic episodes before, he’d always recovered sufficiently to resume a career as a broker—until 1991, when he was fired and moved in with their mother. In the face of George’s deterioration, writes the author, “my certainties and resentments seemed suddenly small and brittle.” Payne narrates his own story as a series of improbable ups and downs, from attending Exeter as his parents’ marriage disintegrated to early success followed by penury as a novelist. The author’s ambition and determination to flee—he impulsively bought land with a book advance, a decision that would haunt him as leading to George’s death—kept him from seeing how he and his brother seemed fated to repeat their father’s self-destruction. Both brothers entered optimistic marriages that produced children, then imploded. “Our father’s actions,” he writes, “were those you’d take against your enemies when you burn their houses to the ground...and in a way George’s actions are terminal like Bill’s were.” Payne’s prose is lyrical, allowing him to convey intense meaning in mundane interactions and distantly recalled family crises as well as a clear sense of a variety of settings. His dense, sprawling sentences may demand patience, but they illuminate a riveting family history and ask complex questions about social prestige, mental health, and the ties that bind.

A powerful, above-average literary memoir.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2354-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

An understated, observant, and earnest memoir from an acclaimed novelist.

WORLDS APART

A MEMOIR

The second installment of American novelist Plante’s memoir (Becoming a Londoner, 2013, etc.) of his long love affair with Nikos Stangos (1936-2004), the Greek-born editor of the publishing house Thames and Hudson.

In this elegant follow-up to Becoming a Londoner, the author concentrates on the 1980s, moving among London, Italy, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Deaths among his gay community from HIV/AIDS were just becoming a creeping, recurring reality in Plante’s diary, which he kept dutifully during his life with Stangos. Since the mid-1960s, the two had cultivated a deep friendship with poet Stephen Spender and his Russian wife, Natasha. They benefitted from Spender’s stellar social connections with artists like David Hockney and moved in a tight artistic circle in London and New York as well as Lucca, Italy, where Plante and Stangos lived together. The worldly Spender (in his 70s) appears here infatuated with a young American student, and their correspondence was strictly kept from his wife by using Plante and Stangos as go-betweens. Plante, in his mid-40s, also battled duel affections—e.g., for his former Turkish lover who lived in New York and died shockingly of AIDS; and successful American artist Jennifer Bartlett, about whom Plante was truly conflicted. Both relationships caused Stangos terrible agonies of jealousy, while Stangos’ flirtation with a young man in his publishing office greatly affected Plante. The most engaging moments in the book chronicle the time when the author shared a house in Tulsa with prickly Australian critic Germaine Greer and they both got jobs teaching at the University of Tulsa. Also entertaining is Plante’s anecdote about when he was asked by acquaintance Philip Roth to accompany him to Israel to research a new novel. Full of questions about Plante’s non-Jewishness and sexuality, Roth may have used Plante as a model for his goyish character in The Counterlife (1986).

An understated, observant, and earnest memoir from an acclaimed novelist.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4088-5480-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2015

A dragon awaits, in other words. Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia.

THE DOGS ARE EATING THEM NOW

OUR WAR IN AFGHANISTAN

Think Afghanistan is bad now? Just wait until American forces leave entirely and the dragon rises again.

The dragon trope is foreign correspondent Smith’s, borrowing from the old cartographer’s notation that dragons lurk in unmapped corners of the Earth. “The thing about modern civilization,” says one battle-hardened GI, “is that we can’t stand those empty spots. The dragons fly out and bite you in the ass.” So they do, and by Smith’s account, the dragons are multiplying. Eloquent and sometimes-hallucinatory, reminiscent at turns of Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Smith’s narrative takes us from bad to worse. In one set piece, a coalition soldier lets loose a rocket with the remark, “There goes a Porsche,” precisely because the rocket costs as much as a sports car. Meanwhile, the enemy makes lethal weapons out of scraps, odd bits of fertilizer, plastic buckets and rusty tools. The result is devastating, and Smith does not shy from decidedly not-for-workplace descriptions: “Charred pieces of human flesh stuck to the armour. A television reporter wrinkled her nose at the sight, and I asked her: ‘Can you believe they were trying to sell me a story about how things have gotten better in Panjwai?’ ” Smith is a master of the battlefield description, but he’s even better at slyly noting the ironies and complexities of the war: for instance, destroying a farmer’s opium crop, while falling under the rubric of the war on drugs, would likely turn the farmer against the United States. Solution? Hire mercenaries to “slip into areas secured by NATO troops and raze the fields, without telling anybody they were sent by the foreigners.” Worse, in the author’s formulation, is now that we’re mired, we’re stuck, no matter how we pretend otherwise: “At best, we are leaving behind an ongoing war. At worst, it’s a looming disaster.”

A dragon awaits, in other words. Cheerless and even nightmarish, one of the best books yet about the war in Central Asia.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1619024793

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

A pointed family memoir from a writer keenly attuned to and reverent of genius.

A HOUSE IN ST JOHN'S WOOD

IN SEARCH OF MY PARENTS

A frank memoir of Spender’s problematic poet father and his emotionally remote pianist mother.

Growing up among a generation of brilliant, creative British men who had to overcome enormous obstacles to their embrace of homosexuality left poet Stephen Spender’s only son, sculptor and writer Matthew, with both a deep reverence for the creative act and a nose for self-deception. When his mother, Natasha Litvin, died in 2010 at the house in St. John’s Wood where she had lived for nearly 70 years, the author recognized that he felt angrily ambivalent about his mother, who accused him of not properly guarding the rather romantic legacy of his father, who died in 1995. In his tremendously honest memoir, Spender explores his mother’s absurd attempts to keep up appearances whiles her husband’s work was devoted to truth, both in word and in politics, into which he plunged with his magazine Encounter. Spender traces the early life and career of his father and his important friendships with W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, who all influenced each other. Dallying with communism briefly and between romances with men and an early marriage, the poet married the classically trained Natasha in 1941. A pianist “who lived on her nerves," according to her son, she was continually devastated by her husband’s dalliances with men, which began to dawn on the son when he read his father’s autobiography. Gaps and silences pervaded the household, especially when his mother took off to care for Raymond Chandler in Palm Springs and his father took up with a young Reynolds Price. In the latter part of this touching memoir, the author looks at his father’s political naiveté over the CIA’s bankrolling of Encounter and his own youthful romance with Maro Gorky, whose elusive father would become the subject of his first book, From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky (1999).

A pointed family memoir from a writer keenly attuned to and reverent of genius.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-26986-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Of considerable interest to all readers of Twain but especially to working writers following Twain’s habit of tracking his...

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, VOLUME 3

THE COMPLETE AND AUTHORITATIVE EDITION

In which the greatest of American writers goes into the night—and not such a good night at that, and not at all gently.

Covering just the last couple of years in Twain’s long life, this is the concluding volume of the masterful University of California edition of his autobiography: unexpurgated, cross-referenced, and richly annotated. (Few modern readers would understand, for instance, that Twain was alluding to a Thackeray story in calling one unfortunate fellow “Jeames.”) The swan song reinforces things well established by its predecessors. For one, Twain lived a whirlwind life, interested in almost everything, particularly when it was cool, modern, and gadgety; he was always investing in tools and toys, sometimes losing his shirt thereby. For another, Twain, cynic though he appeared to be, tended to trust people, sometimes at great cost. A large section of this volume is devoted to an aggrieved account of a yearslong episode in which members of Twain’s staff bilked him of money, land, and jewels, taking advantage of the old man. Even when angry, though, the author puts humor to work, writing of one of them, “the first thing I ever noticed about Miss Lyon was her incredible laziness. Laziness was my own specialty, & I did not like this competition.” Elsewhere, Twain, a jet-setter before jets, writes with both humor and a certain archness of people like Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, the latter of whom he sends up for philanthropy from the supposed kindness of his heart: “He has bought fame and paid cash for it,” Twain writes, “he has deliberately projected and planned out this fame for himself; he has arranged that his name shall be famous in the mouths of men for centuries to come.”

Of considerable interest to all readers of Twain but especially to working writers following Twain’s habit of tracking his astonishing writing income—even though, as he writes, “if I should run out of all other nourishment I believe I could live on compliments.”

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-520-27994-0

Page Count: 792

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

The anatomy of an airliner and peripatetic aerial travel, as well as a sophisticated worldview, combine for first-class...

SKYFARING

A JOURNEY WITH A PILOT

Vanhoenacker’s workplace is the cockpit of a 747. Leaving a contrail of information with lapidary prose, he shows why he loves his job.

The author takes his readers on a journey that is far removed from terrestrial concerns, part memoir of wanderlust and part handbook of professional flying. Before each trip, there is the gathering of the crew, numbering in the teens, who may never have met before, and the aircraft is inspected. Vanhoenacker describes some of the electronic instrumentation aboard a modern airliner, as well as the process of lifting the massive plane into another world where there is no local time. The author notes that there are various compass headings that show diverse ways north, and each may be useful. In the sky, nearly everyone uses English, whether they are from Tokyo, Amman, Beijing, London, or countless other global cities. When the autopilot is disengaged before landing, an alarm sounds to verify that flying manually is really intended. At a critical point during the descent, the pilot is ordered by the computer to decide whether to touch down or head up again. Vanhoenacker also informs us that airports are distinguished places—in Japan, ground crews have been seen bowing to departing 747s. For those not privy to the view from the cockpit, the calculus of flight is fascinating. The author artfully considers geography and aerodynamics, but there is more. He reflects aloft what earthbound readers seldom think about, and his engaging essays consider the texture and weight of air and clouds and the essence of speed, place, night, day, and time. This pilot is an accomplished stylistic acrobat who flies—and writes—with the greatest of ease.

The anatomy of an airliner and peripatetic aerial travel, as well as a sophisticated worldview, combine for first-class reading—sure to enhance your next flight.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-35181-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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