An uneven book that gains surprising power as it moves toward the end.




Combination popular-science book/memoir of a gardener who lost her sense of smell.

The Garden Letter publisher Blodgett (Midwest Top 10 Garden Guide, 2004, etc.) discovered one day that her olfactory sense had gone haywire. All the worst odors she could think of—rotting garbage, decaying flesh, animal waste—were invading her nose in nauseating waves. The author learned from a doctor that her olfactory receptors had been wiped out, probably by the burning blast of an over-the-counter homeopathic nose spray that she had taken to fight off a head cold. What she smelled, the doctor informed her, were actually olfactory hallucinations due to a condition called phantosmia. It was as though her nose and brain were trying desperately to remember what the world smelled like. Within weeks, however, all olfactory sensations ceased, just in time for Christmas. Gone were the aromas of fir branches, candles, cookies and sweets. The progression of her condition into anosmia—total absence of scent—led Blodgett into a black hole as she pondered what she had lost and how hopeless she felt to convey it. Her loss, however, is the reader’s gain, as it inspires by far the best writing in the book. Perhaps overcompensating for the condition, the author became a sponge, soaking up everything she could read and learn about “the primal sense,” from medical research to Proust. Her book, which starts unpromisingly in the chirpy tone of a magazine feature, suddenly develops depth, pathos and poetry as it progresses. Blodgett succeeds in raising awareness about this misunderstood, underappreciated sense and how it heightens the pleasure of being alive, even as it plays a subtle role in keeping us alive. “Smells may be slow to register cognitively,” she writes, “but they operate with superb efficiency subliminally.” So, too, does Blodgett in this book, as she develops from a slightly dizzy suburban gardening enthusiast into a three-dimensional, suffering, intellectual human being.

An uneven book that gains surprising power as it moves toward the end.

Pub Date: June 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-618-86188-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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