Passionate, personal, insightful, testy, and unique.

MISS CHLOE

A MEMOIR OF A LITERARY FRIENDSHIP WITH TONI MORRISON

The joys, challenges, and lasting lessons of a friendship with Chloe Ardelia Wofford, aka Toni Morrison.

"When I met Toni Morrison in person, I had been her reader and her cheerleader for dozens of years," writes Verdelle. What followed was more than two decades of friendship and hero worship, including delights and resentments big and small (the author is still wondering why Morrison had to steal her favorite scarf), along with "two and a half spats" dished in detail. Morrison may have been a diva in many ways, but Verdelle couldn't have met her under more auspicious circumstances. In 1997, after she received a copy of Verdelle's first (and only) published novel, The Good Negress, Morrison sent back an unsolicited appreciation, almost unheard of. She went on to get the younger author invited to teach at Princeton, where she herself was ensconced alongside Black luminaries like Cornel West, Nell Painter, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Princeton was a mixed bag for Verdelle, who was ultimately repulsed by the overwhelming privilege on display. (She now teaches at Morgan State, a historically Black college in Baltimore.) Verdelle writes forcefully about the individual novels and about Morrison's achievement as a whole. “Relentlessly stripping the hegemonic gaze,” she writes, “Morrison made us and our human complexities so visible, in language so eloquent and deep, that the whole of world literature could not deny her innovation and brilliance." Elsewhere, she writes, "Morrison is to literature as James Brown is to popular culture”—the essence of Black and proud. The book is too long in the way of a phone conversation where the other person keeps thinking of one more thing they have to tell you, but luckily enough, that turns out to be interesting, as well. Verdelle is not afraid to grind an ax if necessary, and the one involving the failure of her second novel to see print is sharp indeed. Maybe something can be done about that.

Passionate, personal, insightful, testy, and unique.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-303166-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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