A brief memoir for lovers of writing and reading in which we learn more about dogwoods than about the author.

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH DOGWOOD

A poet’s memoir finds its form in a tree.

As director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Merrill (The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War, 2011, etc.) has compiled a long publishing history as a poet, essayist, war correspondent, editor, and translator. Here, he attempts something different: “It seemed to me that an extended meditation on the intersection between personal and natural history might hold interest if for no other reason than to offer a different way of thinking about the tradition of writing memoirs.” This may be enough of a reason for those of a literary bent, but the result is a memoir that is less about who the author is and what he has done than how he writes and what he has read. In other words, it’s a particularly bookish book, which has its rewards. Merrill begins with a boyhood fort under a dogwood tree and then digresses into a conjuring of the area during the Revolutionary War, in particular the heroism of “Captain Henry Wick’s youngest daughter, Tempe (short for Temperance).” Some two centuries later, he writes, “I can still smell the smoke and mold in her house and the log hospital nearby, where so many soldiers died.” The author writes of balancing his academic pursuits with work in a nursery and other jobs that brought him close to nature and, eventually, to the point where, in all his travels, “transplanting had become the story of my life.” Merrill ends with a quote from his friend and inspiration, W.S. Merwin: “On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree.” He also mentions marriage and a family, but there is less on them than on dogwoods in their various manifestations—as metaphor, in diplomacy, and as keys to both poetry and spirituality.

A brief memoir for lovers of writing and reading in which we learn more about dogwoods than about the author.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59534-809-8

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Trinity Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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