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

THE UNREALITY OF MEMORY

AND OTHER ESSAYS

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 top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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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