A self-deprecating remembrance that’s hampered by unsubtle humor.

MY SHORTS

BRIEF SCENES FROM MY EARLY LIFE

A young Jewish boy trips painfully through his midcentury childhood in this debut memoir.

Kagan describes himself as an overweight, magic-trick-performing, clarinet-playing, comedy-loving middle child in this reminiscence. He was raised in a Jewish family in Dallas, Texas, during the 1950s and ’60s, and his upbringing is reminiscent of the narrator’s in the 1983 film A Christmas Story (itself based on author Jean Shepherd’s 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash); for example, Kagan tells of trying to keep his parents ignorant of his classroom antics while begging them for a Red Rider BB gun. He recounts various episodes, such as when he accidentally burned down the family’s toolshed while pretending to be the Lone Ranger, and when his friend Melvin Schliffstein shot him in the eye with a peanut from a slingshot. Another story recounts how the 11-year-old author discovered masturbation and was terrified that his parents were about to give him a sex talk; instead, they informed him that it was “time for us to tell you all about what it means to be Jewish.” He later recalls being asked by a girl in middle school if he’d ever gotten past first base, quipping that “my physique resembled a bag of bats, balls, and bases versus those who actually hit and ran the bases.” Male readers who came of age during the same time period will relate to many of the author’s reminiscences. Kagan is a natural, energetic storyteller, and his tales have a solid sense of structure. Unfortunately, their humor is often overly broad and dated—think Billy Crystal’s work, but with more of a fondness for grossness. Kagan appears highly amused by his book’s title, and he gets plenty of mileage out of it; his Reader’s Guide begins, “I’m so honored your book club has gotten into My Shorts, as odd as that may sound!” The overall result is a fairly familiar series of awkward anecdotes about a horny teenage boy and his overbearing relations, which won’t be to everyone’s taste.

A self-deprecating remembrance that’s hampered by unsubtle humor.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73400-030-6

Page Count: 199

Publisher: BLynk Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2020

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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