“If I ever had a plaque,” James confesses, “I would like it to say: He loved the written word, and told the young.” Until...

A book lover’s musings.

Australian-British poet, essayist, critic, and memoirist James (Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, 2015, etc.) begins this book by disclosing his frail health. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, already suffering from emphysema, he “could hear the clock ticking, and I wondered whether it was worth reading anything both new and substantial, or even rereading something substantial that I already knew about.” Describing himself as “book crazy,” he did both, responding to his reading journey in brief, often witty and insightful, sometimes slight, essays. Recovering from pneumonia, he staved off boredom by rereading Conrad’s Lord Jim, a book he had once found uninteresting. His second reading only somewhat revised that view: the book offered “an international historical picture” but was “not quite enthralling enough” to earn his admiration. Nostromo, on the other hand, he deems “one of the greatest books I have ever read.” Also great are Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels, to which James became addicted after his daughter gave him Master and Commander. “She was like a drug dealer handing out a free sample,” he writes, and he was hooked. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises once made James envious; now, although still “enchanted” by Hemingway’s prose style, he finds the dialogue too repetitious and wonders if the book is “a thing for eternity.” V.S. Naipaul, according to James, is notable “for his fastidious scorn, not for his large heart”; Naipaul’s revelations about his colonial experience elicits memories of James’ youth in Australia and makes him realize “how complex it has all been, this birth, growth, and breaking up of an empire.”

“If I ever had a plaque,” James confesses, “I would like it to say: He loved the written word, and told the young.” Until the plaque is cast, this slim book will suffice.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-300-21319-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015


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

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



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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