Well-chosen, enduringly relevant selections.

WRITING POLITICS

AN ANTHOLOGY

Penetrating essays across three centuries consider freedom, power, and justice.

Bromwich, a Guggenheim fellow and professor of English at Yale, collects essays, from the early-18th to mid-20th centuries, addressing critical political issues not only of each writer’s time, but of our own. The essays, writes the editor, “show the changing face of oppression and violence, and the invention of new paths for improving justice. Arbitrary power is the enemy throughout.” Several selections are likely to be familiar: Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” and Gandhi’s “The Doctrine of the Sword.” Abraham Lincoln, though, is represented not by his Gettysburg Address but by a letter defending the Emancipation Proclamation; Ralph Waldo Emerson, by a moving protest against the Fugitive Slave Law; and George Eliot, by an argument against anti-Semitism. William James, a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, protests America’s aggression in the Philippines. Repeatedly, writers urge the need for independent thought against unexamined beliefs: As Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot wrote, many “wish others to think as they do, not only because they wish to diffuse doctrinal truth, but also and much more because they cannot bear to hear the words of a creed different from their own.” Likewise, W.E.B. Du Bois reminds us, “we have attempted to enthrone any chance majority and make it rule by divine right. We have kicked and cursed minorities as up-starts and usurpers when their sole offense lay in not having ideas or hair like ours.” In “Useful Work Versus Useless Toil,” William Morris cautions, “it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself—a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others.” Overall, the sophistication of language and argument throughout this anthology testifies to what public discourse used to sound like before it became dominated by Twitter rants.

Well-chosen, enduringly relevant selections.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-462-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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