Smooth and smart relief for the screen-weary.

Long-form narratives both diverting and engaging.

In his debut collection, former Grantland and MTV News writer Phillips follows the familiar trajectory of the participatory journalist chasing down new angles on quirky subjects and subcultures—space invaders, sumo wrestlers, the Iditarod, tiger tourism in India—but his work stands out for its refreshing lack of memoir. On the whole, the author’s eclectic travelogues and essays don’t end up being journeys back to the author himself, though his keen sensitivities color each scene, and he rarely hides his feelings about the figures he meets. Phillips has fashioned a calling for himself as an American flâneur, casting out into post-colonial frontiers and marveling at the oddities he encounters from the comfortable distance of unsupervised creative prose. His style blends free-form anecdotes with capsule histories and novellike passages that don’t stop to sort out fact from perception or conjectures. Of his days among remote Alaskans, he writes, “it was such a warm place. I mean, fine, we’re all jaded here, but you could feel it: this fragile human warmth surrounded by almost unmanageable sadness.” Topics begin in earnest but drop away to follow alternate lines of inquiry. For example, a nerd’s-eye view of UFO enthusiasm surrounding Area 51 leads to reveries on the PTSD of otherwise sane people who claim alien abduction, the derelict remains of Route 66, the genocide of Native Americans, and the mysteries of time as expressed in landscape. His biographical sketches of the British royal family speculate on their private conversations (“My dear, these people are beneath us,” he imagines Prince Philip whispering to the queen), and he narrates the life of gifted Russian animator Yuri Norstein in the present-tense omniscience of a film script. Such stylistic pyrotechnics impress less, however, than the flecks of genuine insight the author dredges up from his experiences as well as the sense of a full human mind at large in the world that so many of his recollections approximate.

Smooth and smart relief for the screen-weary.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-17533-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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