A fine collection from a poet who seems equally comfortable in prose.



In her second collection of nonfiction, poet Gabbert moves fluidly from disaster to dislocation to political upheaval, offering a kind of literary road map to our tumultuous era.

In the epilogue the author writes, “it feels like a suspended emergency—like the specious present has been extended in both directions. Now feels longer.” How do we read such a reflection without thinking about this current moment? Yet Gabbert began the book in 2016, so the narrative is haunted by the specter of the president rather than the specter of the pandemic—although the two are, of course, intimately related. For the author, the key question is how to remain present and connected, how not to turn away from the disruption of the world. To frame her inquiry, she divides the book into three parts, the first about disaster (human-made and otherwise), the second about memory and self-perception, and the last about exhaustion and social conditioning. Her questing, restless intelligence is what holds the essays together. “Real life is not like fiction,” she insists, citing Errol Morris. We can never know enough, and usually, we are at the mercy of what we don’t know. Gabbert makes that explicit in her writing, which is digressive and discursive, showing its bones. “The Great Mortality” begins with a subtle change in the author’s ability to taste, which she thought was viral, before shifting into a series of reflections on contagion and apocalypse. In “The Little Room (or, The Unreality of Memory),” Gabbert uses the memory of her grandmother’s den to provoke a wide-ranging examination of memory and its unreliability, ending with a vivid evocation of loss. “It’s hard for me to believe it no longer exists,” she writes, recalling that long-lost home; “it’s not a place I can go to.” The idea here—as in all the essays in this nuanced book—is that consciousness is conditional, and we can understand ourselves only in pieces.

A fine collection from a poet who seems equally comfortable in prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-53834-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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