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RAP AND REDEMPTION ON DEATH ROW

SEEKING JUSTICE AND FINDING PURPOSE BEHIND BARS

An unvarnished look at a life reclaimed deep within the edifice of mass incarceration.

A raw, contemplative account of a death-row inmate’s journey toward redemption through faith, family, and rap.

This unusual memoir, a collaboration between Braxton and Katz, who teaches a course on “Music and Incarceration” at the University of North Carolina, captures wisdom accrued through more than 25 years of incarceration. Braxton contacted Katz in 2019, seeking guidance on how to better record the raps he had been writing. Katz notes that Braxton “accepts his guilt” for three murders he committed as a young man, acknowledging, “I do not want to minimize his crimes or ignore his victims.” He asserts that the detail and originality of Braxton’s writing (many lyrics appear in the book) speak to the potential for personal growth and cultural value despite these crimes, and he casts himself as part of “a self-fashioned ‘Alim team,’ working to share Braxton’s powerful words and music.” Braxton identifies himself as “a prisoner, a writer, and a rapper on North Carolina’s Death Row,” aspiring to both dramatize his rejection of the nihilistic violence of “street” machismo (“I was nineteen years old and fascinated with the idea of being a gangster”) and call attention to the ugly reality of wrongfully convicted individuals sentenced to death. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen 35 people executed and 7 people exonerated because they were innocent,” he wrote in one of his letters. In percussive, short chapters, Braxton vividly presents his own background, including documentation of bleak decades behind bars and feelings of guilt and torment, which dedication to Islam helped him address. “There’s no getting around the darkness in this book,” writes Katz, but there is also “joy, hope, and love.” Though the narrative structure is sometimes too disjointed, Braxton’s story is worth discussing.

An unvarnished look at a life reclaimed deep within the edifice of mass incarceration.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781469678702

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of North Carolina

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CINEMA SPECULATION

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

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The acclaimed director displays his talents as a film critic.

Tarantino’s collection of essays about the important movies of his formative years is packed with everything needed for a powerful review: facts about the work, context about the creative decisions, and whether or not it was successful. The Oscar-winning director of classic films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs offers plenty of attitude with his thoughts on movies ranging from Animal House to Bullitt to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Big Chill. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, he provides the original reporting and insights only a veteran director would notice, and his engaging style makes it impossible to leave an essay without learning something. The concepts he smashes together in two sentences about Taxi Driver would take a semester of film theory class to unpack. Taxi Driver isn’t a “paraphrased remake” of The Searchers like Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? is a paraphrased remake of Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or De Palma’s Dressed To Kill is a paraphrased remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But it’s about as close as you can get to a paraphrased remake without actually being one. Robert De Niro’s taxi driving protagonist Travis Bickle is John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Like any good critic, Tarantino reveals bits of himself as he discusses the films that are important to him, recalling where he was when he first saw them and what the crowd was like. Perhaps not surprisingly, the author was raised by movie-loving parents who took him along to watch whatever they were watching, even if it included violent or sexual imagery. At the age of 8, he had seen the very adult MASH three times. Suddenly the dark humor of Kill Bill makes much more sense. With this collection, Tarantino offers well-researched love letters to his favorite movies of one of Hollywood’s most ambitious eras.

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311258-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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