A resplendent collection from a writer who never disappoints.

HOMO IRREALIS

ESSAYS

Urbane essays in pursuit of a self.

Reprising themes he explored in his most recent collection of nonfiction, Alibis (2011), novelist, memoirist, and cultural critic Aciman, at 70, offers elegant meditations on time and memory, longing and desire, being and becoming. Whether writing about his childhood in Alexandria, visiting Rome with Freud’s ghostly presence, searching for Dostoevsky’s 19th-century milieu in St. Petersburg, reading Proust, or watching Éric Rohmer’s movies, Aciman finds himself “caught between remembrance and anticipated memory.” The feeling is a swirl of moods he calls “irrealist,” where “boundaries between what is and what isn’t, between what happened and what won’t,” disappear, and where “what might never, couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t possibly occur” may well happen. Nostalgia imbues many essays with ruefulness, if not regret. In Rome, he discovered “the birthplace of a self I wished to be one day and should have been but never was and left behind and didn’t do a thing to nurse back to life again.” All of us, he writes, “seek a life that exists elsewhere in time, or elsewhere on-screen, and that, not being able to find it, we have all learned to make do with what life throws our way.” Past and present, for him, are “continuously coincident,” and memories that have apparently vanished continue to exert their presence. Those memories include encounters with works of art—John Sloan’s portraits of New York in the 1920s, Monet’s Poppy Field, the “muted lyricism” of Corot’s French landscapes—that hover enticingly in his imagination. Art, writes Aciman, “sees footprints, not feet, luster, not light, hears resonance, not sound. Art is about our love of things when we know it’s not the things themselves we love.” Reminiscent of the writings of W.G. Sebald and Fernando Pessoa (both subjects of his essays), Aciman’s latest conveys with grace and insight his longing to apprehend “myself looking out to the self I am today.”

A resplendent collection from a writer who never disappoints.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-17187-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

IS THIS ANYTHING?

“All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.” So writes Seinfeld in this pleasing collection of sketches from across his four-decade career.

Known for his wry, observational humor, Seinfeld has largely avoided profanity and dirty jokes and has kept politics out of the equation. Like other schooled jokesters, perhaps most famously Bob Hope, he keeps a huge library of gags stockpiled, ever fearful of that day when the jokes will run out or the emcee will call you back for another set. “For the most part, it was the people who killed themselves to keep coming up with great new material who were able to keep rising through the many levels,” he recounts of his initiation into the New York stand-up scene. Not all his early material played well. The first piece in this collection, laid out sentence by sentence as if for a teleprompter, is a bit about being left-handed, which comes with negative baggage: “Two left feet. / Left-handed compliment. / Bad ideas are always ‘out of left field.’ / What are we having for dinner? / Leftovers.” He gets better, and quickly, as when he muses on the tininess of airplane bathrooms: “And a little slot for used razor blades. Who is shaving on the plane? And shaving so much, they’re using up razor blades. Is the Wolfman flying in there?” For the most part, the author’s style is built on absurdities: “Why does water ruin leather? / Aren’t cows outside a lot of the time?” It’s also affable, with rare exceptions, as when, taking on a mob boss persona, he threatens a child with breaking the youngster’s Play-Doh creations: “Nothing wrong with sending your child a little Sicilian message once in a while.” One wishes there were more craft notes among the gags, but the ones that are there are both inspiring and gnomic: “Stand-up is about a brief, fleeting moment of human connection.”

Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982112-69-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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