Unnecessarily dense analysis whose appeal will be limited to die-hard hip-hop fans.



An intellectual examination of hip-hop lyrics.

Though the genre is more easily experienced than explained, Levin Becker, a lifelong fan and contributing editor at the Believer and senior editor at McSweeney’s Publishing, seems up for the challenge. His celebration of rappers’ wordplay and creativity shows the links between Cardi B and Ernest Hemingway, and he also compares the influence of Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back” to a Shakespeare play. Levin Becker delivers stunningly deep readings of 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and takes odd swipes at Jay-Z’s occasional nods to rhymes from other rappers, and he discusses the use of the N-word and hip-hop’s preoccupation with drug dealing as a metaphor or plot point. Whether or not you agree with the author’s feelings on those issues, or even the success of the book itself, will likely depend on your point of view and interest in the minutiae of lyrics and song construction—not to mention asides on nearly every page. Levin Becker is candid about how his life differs from those of many rappers: “I’m white, middle-class, educated, risk-averse, law-abiding with the usual exceptions that are fine for middle-class white people. I’m the son of a doctor and a composer and the youngest of five brothers and sisters, all brilliant and accomplished in their respective white-collar fields.” That description explains a lot about his choices as well as his decision to overstuff his chapters with examples to back his points. He often offers five when one will do, slowing down the narrative and cluttering the argument. For example, here’s how the author explains the evolution of rapper personas: “Before the gangster, though, rap’s primary agent of flux and mutability was the clown. The slobbering caperer, the winking joke-butt, the wild card.” Simply citing Flavor Flav would’ve worked, too. Levin Becker’s knowledge and passion are unquestionable, but he tries too hard to argue why hip-hop should be taken seriously when it can easily speak for itself.

Unnecessarily dense analysis whose appeal will be limited to die-hard hip-hop fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-87286-876-2

Page Count: 312

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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 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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