WONDERLANDS

ESSAYS ON THE LIFE OF LITERATURE

Cozy, writerly advice and analysis delivered in a restrained, welcoming manner.

A veteran author of the craft extolls the many rewards of literature.

In his third nonfiction book, novelist and short story writer Baxter unites the “personal and impersonal, the subjective and the objective.” He describes “Wonderland” as a “small but important subcontinent of Literature” where the “setting is as alive as the characters are, if not more so….The House of Usher looks out at you as you approach it. When you think of Stephen King’s or Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, you think of the Overlook Hotel, which has a mind of its own, as does Poe’s House of Usher.” In the first essays, Baxter gently delves into the intriguing technique of how requests, like Lady Macbeth’s request that Macbeth kill Duncan, often set “stories with a particular urgency into motion.” The author ponders how some characters’ strange names—Ahab, Flem Snopes, Bathsheba Everdene—“are their story.” After “being used, the name has been retired.” He notes that “something in the nature of fiction loves inventories and lists,” as he works his way through works by Ayad Akhtar, Thomas Hardy, and William Maxwell. In a nostalgic piece about the author “curator,” Baxter champions writers who preserve “what everyone else is discarding” or forgetting. Rather than just letting a narrative simmer, some writers like to heat it up “in order to cook properly.” Even Chekhov, a master of the “low-temperature situation,” sometimes lets things “boil over,” as in Uncle Vanya. Baxter also probes Under the Volcano’s use of a “hot and often extravagant style” in a postmodernist age that encourages the “cooler end of the emotional spectrum.” In a lengthy, incisive piece on charisma, Baxter writes that in “our literature, America is a breeding ground of confidence men,” pointing to Muriel Spark’s “female Ahab” in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (“reading it is a bit like watching laboratory mice jumping around after being given periodic shocks”) and James McBride’s John Brown in The Good Lord Bird.

Cozy, writerly advice and analysis delivered in a restrained, welcoming manner.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64445-091-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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

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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. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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