THE HABIT OF BEING

LETTERS OF FLANNERY O'CONNOR

Flannery O'Connor's best fiction seemed almost pre-grooved, as though she merely poured ink—and vividness—into grooves of mysterious life that were already whitely there. Being Southern, being Catholic, and being ill had a lot to do with that, and these hundreds of letters give O'Connor's tough, funny, careful personality to us more distinctly and movingly than any biography probably would. The idea of the spinster lady with lupus living cut off from the world in Milledgeville, Georgia, a primitive who raised peahens and a queer kind of ruckus—religious and weird—in her fiction, is dispelled. She was at home with the foremost literary figures of the day: Lowell, the Tates, Elizabeth Bishop, J. F. Powers, John Hawkes. She took no guff about finances connected with her work. She asked for criticism and accepted or discarded it according to its merits. She was conservative and anti-integrationist. Besieged by collegiate requests for clarifications of her work, she became weary, testy, revealing: "I have to sit down and write a graduate student in Cleveland who wants to know why my stories are grotesque; are they grotesque because I am showing the frustration of grace? It's very hard to tell these innocents that they are grotesque because that's the nature of my talent." Another side to her talent is an almost astonishing directness. In the letters, this is often found in humor, but the point is never lost. In a series of letters over ten years time to a woman identified as only "A.," O'Connor writes a kind of spiritual biography of a Catholic writer. "I am only interested in a fiction of miracles." She recalls a dinner where Mary McCarthy blathered on about the Host being a marvelous symbol, and prompted O'Connor's: "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." When A. leaves the Church, O'Connor mourns in her fashion, trying to convince her friend that if Jesus weren't God, she—O'Connor—would want to have nothing to do with him. Throughout, there are only the lightest, self-deprecating remarks about her debilitating, finally fatal illness: a refusal to let it slow her, and for every physical blow, her mind and outlook and literary assurance getting reactively tougher. Remarkable and inspiring.

Pub Date: March 16, 1979

ISBN: 0374521042

Page Count: 644

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1979

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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