Even those who only dimly remember Royce White, Pavement, or Gnarls Barkley will find the reflections on them engaging.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN X

A HIGHLY SPECIFIC, DEFIANTLY INCOMPLETE HISTORY OF THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY

A collection of journalistic pieces that remain provocative, or at least interesting, even if the subjects that inspired them have faded from memory.

In his 10th book, pop-culture contrarian Klosterman (But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as If It Were the Past, 2016, etc.) suggests that he has matured more gracefully than many of those he has written about. He built his career as the anti-critic critic, the guy who embraced hair metal and didn’t care much for a lot of what music critics claimed to love. Or, as he writes in one of his more recent introductions to older pieces, “one of the things I love about covering uncool artists is that groups widely described as ‘hated’ are almost always more popular than groups who are described as ‘beloved,’ ” referring to a piece on the critically reviled Creed and Nickelback. On that same page, he remarks, of a longer retrospective, “I don’t expect most people who buy this book will read a ten-thousand-word essay on KISS. It is, however, twice as good as a five-thousand-word essay on KISS.” Though it has been tempting to dismiss Klosterman as a one-trick pony, claiming black where others (in print at least) see white, the best work offers insight into the relations among artist, art, and audience that goes considerably deeper. The profiles of Taylor Swift, Kobe Bryant, and Jonathan Franzen will leave readers with fresh appreciation for both the subjects and the journalist, who understands how the three are similar in terms of what they have accomplished and what challenges they have faced in terms of popular perception. It is possible that nobody has ever understood Swift better on the page, while the Franzen piece falls a little short of that for reasons Klosterman explains: “We are both working writers with vaguely similar lives. He, however, is more talented, more successful, and considerably more respected….There was a power imbalance, recognized by both of us.”

Even those who only dimly remember Royce White, Pavement, or Gnarls Barkley will find the reflections on them engaging.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-18415-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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

INTO THE WILD

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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