A welcome anthology for readers of world letters.

DISPATCHES FROM THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS

50 YEARS OF THE NEUSTADT INTERNATIONAL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

Speeches and writings by the winners of a literary prize that should be more widely known.

Norman, Oklahoma, though the site of the state’s premier university, is an unlikely center for writing from around the globe. In the words of the executive editor of World Literature Today, it “does not obviously have a cosmopolitan culture that can sponsor the celebration of world literature and internationalism.” Nonetheless, for 50 years, the journal has been a primary vehicle for delivering works by international authors to American readers as well as the awarding of the annual Neustadt Prize, named for a family of donors. The first honoree was the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, who accepted with gracious words: “I am very moved by this ceremony in this distant land. It was exhausting to get here: it was far away, it was farther than I ever would have imagined” and yet emanated from a university that was “a model for encouraging studies, but also for the diffusion of poetry.” Other honorees have included Gabriel García Márquez, Elizabeth Bishop, Tomas Tranströmer, David Malouf, Claribel Alegría, and Dubravka Ugrešić, with obvious attention to a diverse body of writers from many traditions and ethnicities. Many of those writers have faced political repression at home. As the editor notes, for instance, “in 1991, when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Ugrešić took a firm antiwar stance and became a target for nationalist journalists, politicians, and fellow writers. Subjected to ostracism and persistent media harassment, she left Croatia in 1993.” In her warm, wide-ranging acceptance speech, she recalls Vladimir Nabokov, who remarked, “There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines all three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates.” The enchanters gathered in this volume all merit our attention.

A welcome anthology for readers of world letters.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64605-033-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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