Raw revelations make for an engrossing memoir.



Determined to be an artist, a Syrian Jew wrests himself from his past.

Growing up in a Syrian Sephardic Jewish community in Brooklyn, award-winning playwright Adjmi felt like an outsider to his culture, religion, and family. In his debut memoir, the author chronicles in visceral detail his anguished youth and laborious search for his true identity. His father, he writes, was a con man and pathological liar who never understood any of his children. “He was constantly situating his kids in stories about our lives that had nothing to do with us,” writes the author, “but somehow we ended up as characters in those stories.” Still, Adjmi wanted to please him, hoping that he could win his father’s love, “even if his love confused my sense of self.” His father left the family, cutting off contact for five years, leaving the children with their demanding, narcissistic, angry mother. Childhood, he thought, was “a sort of exhausting performance.” When he was 10, he “plummeted into depression,” which his mother considered a personal affront. He desperately wanted her love but “learned to tamp these impulses. When I did hug her,” he writes, “I sensed her flinching discomfort.” Besides depression and anxiety, Adjmi was beset by “anguish about being a homosexual.” In his sophomore year of high school, he was in “a near-suicidal depression,” and he feared becoming a “Lot Six.” Lot numbers, he explains, were part of a coded system that Syrian businessmen used to negotiate prices on cameras and Walkmans. “Lot Six was code for three, an odd number—odd, as in queer.” Lot Six “had no value,” rendering him worthless. Adjmi struggled mightily to reinvent himself, prove himself “morally superior” to his family and culture, fulfill his artistic ambitions, and, finally, believe in his own talent. Although at times the narrative reads like a long, petulant lament, the author powerfully recounts pain and self-discovery.

Raw revelations make for an engrossing memoir.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-199094-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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

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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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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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