Excellent photos and unassuming journal entries preserve the emotions and sights of the early stages of a pandemic.

HOW WE LIVE NOW

SCENES FROM THE PANDEMIC

Hayes continues journaling about and photographing life in New York City, this time from quarantine.

In his latest, the author offers a slim, touching volume of jottings and images from his experience of the pandemic from the apartment he shared with his partner, the late Oliver Sacks. A recent New York Times article entitled “Publishers Snap Up Corona Books, From Case Studies to Plague Poetry” warned that “publishing books about an unfolding calamity, when the duration and outcome remain uncertain, carries obvious risks for authors and publishers.” With that in mind, Hayes’ sweet and searching record of life in March and April seems a bit like a work in progress. His chart “57 Days in the Pandemic in the United States of America” ends on May 7, with “1,292,623 confirmed & 76,928 dead.” Of course, since then, those numbers have risen precipitously—and promise to do so even more by the time the book is published. The photos serve as potent documentation of an unprecedented time: empty subway trains and stations at rush hour, for example, or portraits of masked store owners and delivery drivers, or solitary figures roaming the streets. The author includes pre-pandemic images for contrast: A colorful picture of a packed 8th Avenue in December, illuminated by brake lights and neon, contrasts sharply with a black-and-white image of the same corridor on April 6, its skyscraper canyons empty of all but shadows. The text is less dramatic though engaging and personable enough. The author’s firsthand intersections with the virus are limited to a couple of sick acquaintances and the effect of social distancing on a nascent love affair begun in December. A list poem recalling “The last time I…” did and saw any number of once-mundane things feels like an homage to Joe Brainard’s I Remember.

Excellent photos and unassuming journal entries preserve the emotions and sights of the early stages of a pandemic.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-688-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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