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Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.

An assortment of musings, cultural critiques, and memoir.

In this zesty collection of 74 pieces—some merely paragraphs—revised from work of the last 35 years, essayist, fiction writer, and biographer (of J.D. Salinger) Shields (Writer-in-Residence/Univ. of Washington; How Literature Saved My Life, 2013, etc.) reflects on family, love, contemporary culture, and his sometimes-problematic connection to other people. “I’m drawn to affectless people whose emptiness is a frozen pond on which I excitedly skate,” he admits. And: “I have trouble reading books by people whose sensibility is wildly divergent from my own.” In five sections, Shields considers Men (mostly his father); Women (many about a college sweetheart); Athletes; Performers (Oprah, Adam Sandler, Bill Murray); and Alter Egos, a motley category that contains essays on Brown, which he attended in the 1970s; infamous memoirist James Frey; and Shields’ career as a school-age athlete. “From kindergarten to tenth grade all I really did was play sports, think about sports, dream about sports,” he writes. “The body in motion is, for me, the site of the most meaning.” Beset with a severe stutter, he hoped that excelling as an athlete would make others forgive him for his “disfluency.” He shared a love of sports with his father, who suffered fom bipolar disorder and occasionally disappeared from the family for treatment. In several essays, Shields examines his Jewishness: “self-consciousness, cleverness, involution, ambivalence, pride, shame.” And he shows a particular sense of humor: he quotes comedian Milton Berle “turning down a second drink at a Catholic charity event: ‘Jews don’t drink; it interferes with our suffering.’ ” Shields credits lifelong back pain with giving him “an invaluable education in the physical, the mortal, the ineradicable wound.” He sums up what he learned: “Pain is inevitable,” one doctor told him. “Suffering is optional.” Many essays end in such aphorisms, and “Life Story” consists entirely of declarations that read like bumper stickers.

Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-35199-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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