A seamless blend of the musical and literary verve, with just enough research to ground and elucidate.

CHASING CHOPIN

A MUSICAL JOURNEY ACROSS THREE CENTURIES, FOUR COUNTRIES, AND A HALF-DOZEN REVOLUTIONS

LaFarge delves passionately into the history and culture—up to the present day—surrounding Chopin's legendary Opus 35 sonata, whose third movement contains “the world’s most famous funeral march.”

In a singular work combining historical research and personal and musical passion, the author, who is also an accomplished pianist, demonstrates how Opus 35 encapsulated many components of the brief and stormy life (1810-1849) of its composer. Exiled from his native Poland, the innovative young pianist, teacher, and composer set out on a series of “peregrinations” throughout Europe, finally settling in the piano capital of the world, Paris, where he was swept off his feet by author George Sand. As LaFarge makes abundantly clear, Chopin’s time living with Sand and her family deeply informed his best work. Both artists were visionaries in their chosen mediums: Sand effectively challenged the misogynistic literary formulas of her day, and Chopin pioneered a distinct style via a diligent search for a new tone, made possible by the technological advances in the piano at the time. LaFarge is at her best writing about the techniques of piano playing, and while certain passages will be challenging for nonmusicians, the author points to an accompanying website, whychopin.com, which offers a host of relevant musical selections for each chapter of the book. Moreover, the author embarked on the requisite pilgrimages to the lovers' haunts in Majorca, Paris, and Nohant, Sand's country estate in central France, where Chopin completed his sonata. In addition to her engaging history, LaFarge energetically pursues Chopin's continued influence on musicians today—especially jazz musicians, who have relished his liberating style, best described by Sand as a unique combination of "severity and grace, melancholy and magnificence.” Indeed, it’s apparent that Chopin endures today, “as fresh, inspiring, and inventive as ever.”

A seamless blend of the musical and literary verve, with just enough research to ground and elucidate.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8871-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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

GREENLIGHTS

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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