While some of the book tends toward the trivial, most of its anecdotes highlight life’s absurdities with wry humor.

MEANDERINGS AND MULLINGS

A collection of blog posts focuses on the author’s experiences during a long life.

In his first book, Russell (Cold Turkey at Nine: The Memoir of a Problem Child, 2013) covers such difficult territory as the murder of his paranoid schizophrenic mother by his father. The author calls his latest work a “continuation of that effort to explain my life,” but it is made of more cheerful stuff, consisting of a diverting compendium of blog posts that illustrate his “meandering mind” and “lifelong tendency to find humor in the mundane, to try to entertain as well as inform, and to recognize my fallibilities and foibles.” Russell returns to his childhood on a Tennessee farm, but this time he fondly recollects activities ranging from mule skinning and tobacco harvesting to corncob fights and “throwing cherry bombs into quiet herds of cattle.” His humor comes through in a portrait of his grandmother, who would pull her long dress down to her ankles “to prevent NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley from looking up it as they broadcast the news” and who satisfied her sweet tooth by adding sugar to snuff. In later life, a street haircut in India has him wistfully recalling “those haircuts that Daddy gave me under a shade tree on our Tennessee farm when I was a little boy.” The author also exhibits an engaging sense of the absurd—a new restaurant near his former home in Texas promises, à la Arlo Guthrie’s hit song, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.” But when he visits it with his wife and friends, it is out of everything on the menu except hamburgers. Russell’s forays into travel writing are less effective and somewhat messy. He attributes the restrictions on private vehicle travel in Alaska’s Denali National Park in part to minimizing the number of people eaten by grizzlies. But there has only been one known fatal attack in the park’s history. A few of the volume’s snapshots are as dispensable as a Chinese fortune cookie, and some readers may yearn for something more substantial. But Russell's affable nature and evident wonderment at the world around him ultimately win the day.

While some of the book tends toward the trivial, most of its anecdotes highlight life’s absurdities with wry humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 447

Publisher: Booklocker

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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