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BIRTHDAY

A fanciful contemplation of the writer's life that is not quite a novel or a memoir but a whimsical combination of the two.

One of Argentina’s most talented and celebrated iconoclasts meditates on his 50th birthday.

The wildly prolific writer Aira (The Linden Tree, 2018, etc.) looks back on his life in the wake of his 50th birthday—with a book that's published in English to coincide with his 70th. As per his modus operandi, it’s a slim but thoughtful affair, punctuated by numerous bons mots, acidic self-deprecation, and cutting observations about the world around him. It starts with a mundane quarrel with his wife—“who doesn’t always appreciate my sense of humor"—about the phases of the moon and proceeds apace. “It would be less dramatic, but much more plausible, to say that it wasn’t a moment but a process: the process of wasting time, which is long by its very nature,” Aira writes. “At my age, it’s impossible to contemplate the eternities of time that I wasted in my youth without a certain horror….The hours, the days, the years, the decades squandered. And it is poetically just, in a way, that the apparent victim should have been the moon, that poetic reminder of wasted time.” It’s a trifle when compared to the author’s body of work, but it’s an eminently readable one, rife with keen observations about passers-by, notes about the author’s unique style and why it changed over time, and ruminations on how the author has dealt with the inscrutable eventualities of aging. As with all this writer’s outlandish novels, numbering nearly 100 by this point, the writing is whimsical, humorous, and poignant by turns. Yet there’s still a finality by the end that readers of Aira’s age may find painfully true: “To write, you have to be young; to write well, you have to be a young prodigy. By the time you get to fifty, much of that energy and precision is gone.”

A fanciful contemplation of the writer's life that is not quite a novel or a memoir but a whimsical combination of the two.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-1909-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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