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


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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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.


Smith returns with a photo-heavy book of days, celebrating births, deaths, and the quotidian, all anchored by her distinctive style.

In 2018, the musician and National Book Award–winning author began posting on Instagram, and the account quickly took off. Inspired by the captioned photo format, this book provides an image for every day of the year and descriptions that are by turns intimate, humorous, and insightful, and each bit of text adds human depth to the image. Smith, who writes and takes pictures every day, is clearly comfortable with the social media platform—which “has served as a way to share old and new discoveries, celebrate birthdays, remember the departed, and salute our youth”—and the material translates well to the page. The book, which is both visually impactful and lyrically moving, uses Instagram as a point of departure, but it goes well beyond to plumb Smith’s extensive archives. The deeply personal collection of photos includes old Polaroid images, recent cellphone snapshots, and much-thumbed film prints, spanning across decades to bring readers from the counterculture movement of the 1960s to the present. Many pages are taken up with the graves and birthdays of writers and artists, many of whom the author knew personally. We also meet her cat, “Cairo, my Abyssinian. A sweet little thing the color of the pyramids, with a loyal and peaceful disposition.” Part calendar, part memoir, and part cultural record, the book serves as a rich exploration of the author’s fascinating mind. “Offered in gratitude, as a place to be heartened, even in the basest of times,” it reminds us that “each day is precious, for we are yet breathing, moved by the way light falls on a high branch, or a morning worktable, or the sculpted headstone of a beloved poet.”

A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-44854-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022

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