It’s difficult for Huffman to establish much stylistic continuity when he relies so heavily on quotes from other...

JOHN PRINE

IN SPITE OF HIMSELF

A guide to the troubadour’s career lacks access to the artist himself but benefits from a subject who is as intriguing as his songs.

In his first book, Greensboro News & Record staff writer Huffman proves an amiable companion as he leads readers though the musical development of an artist whose songwriting uniqueness has prevailed over a decided lack of ambition and decades of commercial indifference. If it weren’t for his close friend and fellow troubadour Steve Goodman, who “had enough ambition for both of them,” Prine might have been happy to remain the singing mailman from suburban Chicago. The author shows just how little Prine enjoyed the business side of the music business and how the strength of his songwriting offset raw indifference as a singer and guitarist in his early studio recordings. More than once he was willing to chuck his career for something different. He never believed the critical claims made by others on his behalf: “If I’m a genius, how come it took me five years to get out of high school?” he told an AP reporter in 1978. “If I’m a genius, how come I don’t have three Cadillacs?” It might have seemed that Prine was destined to be known primarily from the songs on his 1971 debut album—“Sam Stone,” “Hello in There,” “Angel from Montgomery”—with subsequent efforts doing little to raise his profile as he bounced from one record label to another. Yet he amazingly rebounded in 1991 with “The Missing Years,” his most popular album ever and a return to critical acclaim. By then, Prine had started his own label and found domestic bliss with his third wife, and he has subsequently survived a couple bouts with cancer. If he’s lost the inspiration to write songs, that doesn’t seem to bother him much.

It’s difficult for Huffman to establish much stylistic continuity when he relies so heavily on quotes from other journalists, but the unlikely success of the reluctant performer makes for fascinating reading.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-292-74822-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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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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