One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

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THE BEST OF ME

A welcome greatest-hits package from Sedaris.

It’s not easy to pick out fact from fiction in the author’s sidelong takes on family, travel, relationships, and other topics. He tends toward the archly droll in either genre, both well represented in this gathering, always with a perfectly formed crystallization of our various embarrassments and discomforts. An example is a set piece that comes fairly early in the anthology: the achingly funny “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” with its spot-on reminiscence of taking a French class with a disdainful instructor, a roomful of clueless but cheerful students, and Sedaris himself, who mangles the language gloriously, finally coming to understand his teacher’s baleful utterances (“Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section”) without being able to reply in any way that does not destroy the language of Voltaire and Proust. Sedaris’ register ranges from doggerel to deeply soulful, as when he reflects on the death of a beloved sibling and its effects on a family that has been too often portrayed as dysfunctional when it’s really just odd: “The word,” he writes, “is overused….My father hoarding food inside my sister’s vagina would be dysfunctional. His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary.” There’s not a dud in the mix, though Sedaris is always at his best when he’s both making fun of himself and satirizing some larger social trend (of dog-crazy people, for instance: “They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, ‘A black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe’ ”). It’s a lovely mélange by a modern Mark Twain who is always willing to set himself up as a shlemiel in the interest of a good yarn.

One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-62824-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.

A BOOK OF DAYS

Smith returns with a photo-heavy book of days, celebrating births, deaths, and the quotidian, all anchored by her distinctive style.

In 2018, the musician and National Book Award–winning author began posting on Instagram, and the account quickly took off. Inspired by the captioned photo format, this book provides an image for every day of the year and descriptions that are by turns intimate, humorous, and insightful, and each bit of text adds human depth to the image. Smith, who writes and takes pictures every day, is clearly comfortable with the social media platform—which “has served as a way to share old and new discoveries, celebrate birthdays, remember the departed, and salute our youth”—and the material translates well to the page. The book, which is both visually impactful and lyrically moving, uses Instagram as a point of departure, but it goes well beyond to plumb Smith’s extensive archives. The deeply personal collection of photos includes old Polaroid images, recent cellphone snapshots, and much-thumbed film prints, spanning across decades to bring readers from the counterculture movement of the 1960s to the present. Many pages are taken up with the graves and birthdays of writers and artists, many of whom the author knew personally. We also meet her cat, “Cairo, my Abyssinian. A sweet little thing the color of the pyramids, with a loyal and peaceful disposition.” Part calendar, part memoir, and part cultural record, the book serves as a rich exploration of the author’s fascinating mind. “Offered in gratitude, as a place to be heartened, even in the basest of times,” it reminds us that “each day is precious, for we are yet breathing, moved by the way light falls on a high branch, or a morning worktable, or the sculpted headstone of a beloved poet.”

A powerful melding of image and text inspired by Instagram yet original in its execution.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-44854-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022

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“A record is so much better when you can believe it.” Dylan is clearly a believer, and he will convince readers to follow.

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG

The iconic singer/songwriter reflects on a lifetime of listening to music.

Nostalgia abounds in Bob Dylan’s eclectic and eccentric collection of impressive musical appreciations. Examining 66 songs across numerous genres, going back to Stephen Foster’s “Nelly Was a Lady” (1849), the author offers an extensive hodgepodge of illustrations and photographs alongside rich, image-laden, impressionistic prose. There is no introduction or foreword. Instead, Dylan dives right in with “Detroit City,” Bobby Blare’s 1963 single: “What is it about lapsing into narration in a song that makes you think the singer is suddenly revealing the truth?” Throughout the text, the author is consistently engaging and often provocative in his explorations. Regarding “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, he writes, “The lips of her cunt are a steel trap, and she covers you with cow shit—a real killer-diller and you regard her with suspicion and fear, rightly so. Homely enough to stop a clock, she’s no pussycat.” Deconstructing Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s “Pancho and Lefty,” Dylan describes songwriting as “editing—distilling thought down to essentials.” We can see the author’s mind working, reminiscing, but there’s little autobiography here. Where needed, he tosses in some prodigious music history and biography, and some appreciations read like short stories. Often, Dylan straightforwardly recounts what a specific song is about: “By the time you get to Phoenix it will be morning where she is, and she’ll be just getting out of bed.” Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” is a “remembrance of things past,” and Dion and the Belmonts’ version of the Rodgers and Hart song “Where or When” is about “reincarnation.” Also making appearances are Carl Perkins, Perry Como, The Clash, Roy Orbison, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead. Bobby Darin and Willie Nelson appear twice.

“A record is so much better when you can believe it.” Dylan is clearly a believer, and he will convince readers to follow.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 9781451648706

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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