A strong voice for social justice emerges in an engaging memoir.

MY VANISHING COUNTRY

A MEMOIR

An African American attorney and politician reflects on the forces that shaped him.

In a candid and affecting memoir, CNN political analyst Sellers, the youngest member of the South Carolina Legislature when he was elected in 2006, chronicles his evolution as a political activist. Sellers grew up in the rural town of Denmark, South Carolina, where his family moved in 1990. Sellers loved being “country,” where he could ride his bike on back roads, fish in the ponds, and play in cotton fields. Even in what he describes as a bucolic setting, the civil rights movement pervaded the family’s life: Both parents were activists; Sellers was “the campaign baby” during Jesse Jackson’s second run for president in 1988; and when the phone rang, the caller might well be “Uncle” Julian Bond or “Aunt” Kathleen Cleaver. The author counts as decisive his education at historically black Morehouse College, where he was “bit by the political bug,” winning his first campaign to become junior class president. Later, he mounted a successful run for election to the state legislature and, in 2014, resigned that seat to run for lieutenant governor. Although his Republican opponent won that race, Sellers garnered a respectable 41% of the vote. “I always tell people that we chipped away at the glass,” he writes. Sellers admits disappointment with the black church for becoming “passive and insular at best at a time when it needs to be younger and more progressive.” He is forthright, as well, about suffering from anxiety, which he attributes to the fear, rage, and anger that result from continued racial oppression. Hostilities, such as the hatred that led to the Mother Emanuel AME church tragedy in Charleston, are endemic. Donald Trump’s election, Sellers asserts, was caused not by economic but cultural fear “that somehow, black and brown people were going to replace whites.”

A strong voice for social justice emerges in an engaging memoir.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291745-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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