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ON NOT BEING SOMEONE ELSE

TALES OF OUR UNLED LIVES

A strong, pleasing work that is as much about living as about reading and writing.

How unlived lives permeate our literature and our psyches.

The examples begin with “The Road Not Taken,” “the classic poem of unled lives,” but Miller, a professor of English at Johns Hopkins, extends that theme all the way through It’s a Wonderful Life and Jenny Offill’s contemporary novel Dept. of Speculation. The author also ponders the possibilities of those alternate lives in his own mind, inviting readers to do the same. He describes how the early stages of a life (or novel or story) have expansive possibilities, how critical choices narrow those possibilities—through marriage, geography, vocation, etc.—and how the resulting narrow road leaves us pondering those roads that led in different directions. Miller shows how this recognition of unled lives informs fiction, how characters define their lives in contrast to those not led, how novelists acknowledge that their artistic choices don’t preclude reflection on others they might have chosen, and how plotlines that seem inevitable might have taken different turns. “Regret and relief are the emotions we’ve seen most often in these stories, and regret much more often than relief,” he writes. “Either may be overwhelming, but neither is obscure. Their sources are usually clear.” However, the way in which characters realize that they could have been this or could have done that isn’t limited to the page; the process invites empathy from readers, who may realize that their own identities have been circumscribed by the lives not lived and choices not made. “Regret and relief may be the most familiar signs of our unled lives, but this heartbreaking beauty is the most moving to me,” writes Miller. “It’s the freedom and loneliness of middle age.” The author proceeds from close readings of Dickens, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf to a particularly incisive examination of the narrative strategy in Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

A strong, pleasing work that is as much about living as about reading and writing.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-23808-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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GREENLIGHTS

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A JEW

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

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Two bestselling authors engage in an enlightening back-and-forth about Jewishness and antisemitism.

Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, and Tishby, author of Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, discuss many of the searing issues for Jews today, delving into whether Jewishness is a religion, culture, ethnicity, or community—or all of the above. As Tishby points out, unlike in Christianity, one can be comfortably atheist and still be considered a Jew. She defines Judaism as a “big tent” religion with four main elements: religion, peoplehood, nationhood, and the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world through our actions”). She addresses candidly the hurtful stereotypes about Jews (that they are rich and powerful) that Acho grew up with in Dallas and how Jews internalize these antisemitic judgments. Moreover, Tishby notes, “it is literally impossible to be Jewish and not have any connection with Israel, and I’m not talking about borders or a dot on the map. Judaism…is an indigenous religion.” Acho wonders if one can legitimately criticize “Jewish people and their ideologies” without being antisemitic, and Tishby offers ways to check whether one’s criticism of Jews or Zionism is antisemitic or factually straightforward. The authors also touch on the deteriorating relationship between Black and Jewish Americans, despite their historically close alliance during the civil rights era. “As long as Jewish people get to benefit from appearing white while Black people have to suffer for being Black, there will always be resentment,” notes Acho. “Because the same thing that grants you all access—your skin color—is what grants us pain and punishment in perpetuity.” Finally, the authors underscore the importance of being mutual allies, and they conclude with helpful indexes on vernacular terms and customs.

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9781668057858

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon Element

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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