A mixture of pompous braying and insightful, quiet moments of magic.

READ REVIEW

MENTORS, MUSES & MONSTERS

30 WRITERS ON THE PEOPLE WHO CHANGED THEIR LIVES

Editor Benedict (The Practice of Deceit, 2005, etc.) presents a collection of 30 pieces by writers of varying ability, accomplishment and fame who recount “a moment when an authority figure saw talent in them, or when they came to believe they possessed it themselves.”

A couple of the weaker essays are by contributors who prate and prance (John Casey) or who make certain that we know that a mentor once called their writing wonderful (Julia Glass). Not all memories are in soft focus. Mary Gordon recalls an unkind cut from Elizabeth Hardwick that resulted in a 21-year estrangement. Edmund White writes wryly and eloquently about ambivalence, focusing on the prickly-pear personality of Harold Brodkey, who once raged that Updike had stolen his persona and plopped him into The Witches of Eastwick as the diabolical Daryl Van Horne. The most appealing pieces are reflective and self-deprecating. Michael Cunningham summons a moment from high school when an unusual adolescent girl told him he was stupid and that he should read Virginia Woolf ASAP. Alexander Chee, remembering Annie Dillard, notes that great teachers help you see the path you’re already on. Several writers confess to falling in love with other writers (mostly from afar). Cheryl Strayed wept when she finally heard Alice Munro at a reading. Samantha Hunt says she felt flayed by the words of Breece D’J Pancake. Joyce Carol Oates shines with her realization that she’s never had an actual mentor (her late husband, she reveals, rarely read her fiction); instead, she’s had colleagues she’s admired (John Gardner) and books she’s loved. Several contributors, Oates among them, write about formative books from childhood (are we surprised that she liked Poe?). Jane Smiley gets the last word in a sharp-edged piece about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1970s, noting that “desire sparks imagination, imagination generates details, details take you from the beginning to the end.”

A mixture of pompous braying and insightful, quiet moments of magic.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0861-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more