A learned, spirited foray into what makes a sentence tick.

SUPPOSE A SENTENCE

Dillon follows up on his last book about essays with one on the briefer, “slippery sentence.”

These chronologically arranged picks from the 17th century to today are the “few that shine more brightly and for the moment compose a pattern.” The author plumbs biography, autobiography, and history to add context and background, with particular attention to each author’s literary style. Dillon follows a road taken earlier by the French critic Roland Barthes, the “patron saint of my sentences,” explicating the pleasure of writing about writing and close reading, puzzling over the “Two colons, two sets of parentheses?” in Barthes’ sentence. The title of the book is inspired by a sentence in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons that uses the word “suppose” nine times. Dillon’s intriguing inquiry begins with the briefest of sentences, from Hamlet, as the prince dies: “O, o, o, o.”—“nothing more or less than the vocal expression, precisely, of silence.” Most of them are much longer. Dillon also includes Charlotte Brontë’s “The drug wrought,” from Villette. Taken from a sermon shortly before his death, John Donne’s sentence is a “paratactic heap of language” while Thomas de Quincey’s “demands patience; it is like waiting for a photograph to develop.” Elizabeth Bowen’s employs a “style by turns exact, easeful and bristling.” James Baldwin’s sentence, by way of Norman Mailer, has Dillon pondering over Baldwin’s use of “ofay.” Annie Dillard’s sentence about an eclipse, “with its central colon, feels balanced but loose, centrifugal and strange.” In Korean American artist and writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s sentence, Dillon hears echoes of Samuel Beckett, and an imperfect translation of Swiss author Fleur Jaeggy’s sentence gives Dillon fits. Near the end, Dillon writes about how he tried to take notes on Anne Carson’s sentence but only came up with an “ambiguous doodle.”

A learned, spirited foray into what makes a sentence tick.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-524-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

IS THIS ANYTHING?

“All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.” So writes Seinfeld in this pleasing collection of sketches from across his four-decade career.

Known for his wry, observational humor, Seinfeld has largely avoided profanity and dirty jokes and has kept politics out of the equation. Like other schooled jokesters, perhaps most famously Bob Hope, he keeps a huge library of gags stockpiled, ever fearful of that day when the jokes will run out or the emcee will call you back for another set. “For the most part, it was the people who killed themselves to keep coming up with great new material who were able to keep rising through the many levels,” he recounts of his initiation into the New York stand-up scene. Not all his early material played well. The first piece in this collection, laid out sentence by sentence as if for a teleprompter, is a bit about being left-handed, which comes with negative baggage: “Two left feet. / Left-handed compliment. / Bad ideas are always ‘out of left field.’ / What are we having for dinner? / Leftovers.” He gets better, and quickly, as when he muses on the tininess of airplane bathrooms: “And a little slot for used razor blades. Who is shaving on the plane? And shaving so much, they’re using up razor blades. Is the Wolfman flying in there?” For the most part, the author’s style is built on absurdities: “Why does water ruin leather? / Aren’t cows outside a lot of the time?” It’s also affable, with rare exceptions, as when, taking on a mob boss persona, he threatens a child with breaking the youngster’s Play-Doh creations: “Nothing wrong with sending your child a little Sicilian message once in a while.” One wishes there were more craft notes among the gags, but the ones that are there are both inspiring and gnomic: “Stand-up is about a brief, fleeting moment of human connection.”

Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982112-69-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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