A thoughtful recollection about the rejuvenating power of unconventional choices.




A debut memoir recounts a man’s retreat from “mainstream” life in search of his true self.

In 2006, Malone made a fateful decision. He unceremoniously quit his job, ditched his apartment, and spent the bulk of his limited life savings on a 1976 Dodge van. His intention was to live in it and follow his lifelong dream of finding meditative solace in a simpler, less cluttered existence. He quickly discovered that he needed to make some money and become more resourceful, so he started selling his blood plasma to a local clinic, learned the fine art of dumpster diving, and even took a three-day course designed to teach college students basic survival skills in the wild. Malone received a modest inheritance after his father died in 2006, and he used this money to buy a used car and drive across the United States; he also traveled to England, Ireland, and France. Over the course of his adventures off the grid, he reflected deeply on the fallout of an acrimonious divorce, and he made a decision to give full custody of his two children to his wife. He also wrestled with memories of abuse he suffered at the hands of both parents, his father’s emotionally corrosive alcoholism, and the way that both of these things fueled his own struggle with drug addiction. The remembrance is dotted with illustrative references to literature, culling wisdom from the likes of authors such as Jack Kerouac, René Descartes, and Henry David Thoreau. The author’s prose is informally anecdotal, although in spots it employs a more refined, even elegant style: “As proud as I was to have time and again assembled the audacity and the daringness to answer the call to adventure and to leave the common world behind, my adventures had always felt truncated, had always left me feeling a little embarrassed, a little like I hadn’t really possessed the endurance or the determination to complete the mission.” Malone is also bracingly forthcoming, candidly appraising his own shortcomings and courageously attempting to learn something of value from them. However, the author can sometimes take unusual narrative detours; for example, he tells of buying a gun in order to see if possessing it would influence his thoughts on gun-control policy. Also, the book veers into anodyne self-help–book formulas at times, waxing philosophical about the power of smiling, for instance, or about looking into the mirror to give oneself permission to cry. The idea of going on a vision quest also seems uninspired and shopworn, and it sometimes seems as if the author is checking things off a clipboard of spiritually meaningful diversions. It’s often hard to tell the difference between moments of spiritually intense sequestration and escapist hermitage, but Malone is well-aware of that issue and intelligently comments upon it. Overall, this memoir’s emotional depth more than compensates for its excesses, and the author shows considerable bravery in squarely confronting long-ago trauma in its pages.

A thoughtful recollection about the rejuvenating power of unconventional choices.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 237

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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