Unvarnished lens looking at a troubled man’s life—there’s little to nothing like it out there.



The raw, sinewy memoir of a wild mind at work.

It can be a tough task reviewing someone’s personal diary that they’ve released commercially. This book, for instance, offers no real context up front other than the title. Pfundt only reveals his name randomly in the text, which is made up of photocopied pages from a handwritten journal featuring hand-drawn illustrations. It does not appear to be edited for publication. Inky black drawings feature people, crosses, and, in some cases, just scribbles. “Long Live the Spiral,” one page screams, while another just repeats, “I want to die.” Large sections are blacked-out, words the author has evidently decided against. Sometimes it seems the pages have been partially burned; in one case, it is explained that several smudges were made with the author’s blood. Pfundt starts by talking about how he learned something new about himself: he was trying to be someone else. “Why can I not just be me?” he asks. Readers are privy to the author’s direct, personal thoughts as he recalls trying to become a filmmaker and a video game designer while dealing with sex and love, grappling with his feelings for his family, discussing philosophy, and trying to chase away depression. Words are often misspelled. Drawings are usually fairly primitive. It has the earnest, childlike feel of Daniel Johnston’s work, but anyone who thinks this might be a tongue-in-cheek sendup of artists will be disappointed. It rambles, it’s beautiful and harrowing at turns, but there’s no real narrative cohesion, and it’s unclear to whom the book is directed. Then again, the author notes at one point that life doesn’t necessarily have clear goals, other than staying alive, and his prose follows that philosophy. These are the inner workings of a mind struggling to stay alive and figure out what it’s supposed to be doing. As the author admits, this intensely personal, nontraditional work could appeal most to kindred spirits who might take comfort in and appreciate unfiltered thoughts.

Unvarnished lens looking at a troubled man’s life—there’s little to nothing like it out there.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502780812

Page Count: 364

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.



Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.


A noted critic advises us to dance to the music of art.

Senior art critic at New York Magazine and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz (Seeing Out Louder, 2009, etc.) became a writer only after a decadeslong battle with “demons who preached defeat.” Hoping to spare others the struggle that he experienced, he offers ebullient, practical, and wise counsel to those who wonder, “How can I be an artist?” and who “take that leap of faith to rise above the cacophony of external messages and internal fears.” In a slim volume profusely illustrated with works by a wide range of artists, Saltz encourages readers to think, work, and see like an artist. He urges would-be artists to hone their power of perception: “Looking hard isn’t just about looking long; it’s about allowing yourself to be rapt.” Looking hard yields rich sources of visual interest and also illuminates “the mysteries of your taste and eye.” The author urges artists to work consistently and early, “within the first two hours of the day,” before “the pesky demons of daily life” exert their negative influence. Thoughtful exercises underscore his assertions. To get readers thinking about genre and convention, for example, Saltz presents illustrations of nudes by artists including Goya, Matisse, Florine Stettheimer, and Manet. “Forget the subject matter,” he writes, “what is each of these paintings actually saying?” One exercise instructs readers to make a simple drawing and then remake it in an entirely different style: Egyptian, Chinese ink-drawing, cave painting, and the styles of other artists, like Keith Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe. Freely experiment with “different sizes, tools, materials, subjects, anything,” he writes. “Don’t resist something if you’re afraid it’s taking you far afield of your usual direction. That’s the wild animal in you, feeding.” Although much of his advice is pertinent to amateur artists, Saltz also rings in on how to navigate the art world, compose an artist’s statement, deal with rejection, find a community of artists, and beat back demons. Above all, he advises, “Work, Work, Work.”

A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08646-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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