An affecting memoir emerges from a dozen circuitous, digressive essays.

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CIRCADIAN

Unconventional essays offer intimate glimpses into a writer’s heart and mind.

In her second collection, Clammer (BodyHome, 2015) once again stretches the boundaries of the form, pushing against “the tenuous fences between poetry and fiction and nonfiction and humor and critical writing and academic writing and blogging and every other genre that has existed, ever, in order to discover how to discuss our lives.” The essays are notable for their inventive language; many take the form of prose poems or verbal collages; one is constructed of bullet-pointed sentences; another, like a class syllabus. As the title suggests, the essays circle around several recurring themes: Clammer’s relationship with her father, an “outstanding alcoholic” and “the catalyst,” she writes, “for every problem in my life”; her various health problems, including PTSD, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism; suicide (she made two attempts); and the writing life. The title essay focuses on a particular circadian image: her father, pacing in circles as he tried to get relief from the “throbbing, clobbering” cluster headaches that blighted his life, the aftereffect of a head injury. Sometimes he howled with pain; he self-medicated with alcohol, and he tried to kill himself. After he died, Clammer was left with traumatic memories of his suffering: “there was no healing. No desire for sobriety. No want for life. The only thing present was his continuous hurt.” Suicide recurs in several pieces, especially one essay about her work in a mental hospital for homeless adolescents with addiction and mental health issues. “I was just a woman with a sober heart, with a steady and medicated brain, with a belief in each youth’s sobriety,” she writes. She felt attached to one girl, who eventually died—accidentally, though she often threatened to kill herself—and Clammer struggles to understand the depression, vulnerability, and fear that led to the young woman’s death.

An affecting memoir emerges from a dozen circuitous, digressive essays.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59709-603-4

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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