Enjoy these short, meditative pieces slowly; Jaeggy is addictive.

THESE POSSIBLE LIVES

Three sensuous minibiographies in light and shade.

This thin, almost pamphletlike book consists of three mesmerizing profiles of Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and the French symbolist writer Marcel Schwob. Jaeggy (S.S. Proleterka, 2003, etc.) is a Swiss novelist who writes in Italian. Reading each brief essay is like taking a small wafer into your mouth and letting it dissolve so you can savor the flavor of the words, the images, and the moody atmosphere. These are hybrids: biography/literary criticism/prose poem. Eschewing the conventional, Jaeggy fashions poetic collages with facts, quotes, and re-created incidents that quietly reveal the inner souls of each author. She is particularly interested in matters of creativity and inspiration, madness and death. De Quincey, who became a “visionary” when he was 6, relied on opium and laudanum to stimulate his creativity, becoming “distant from the terrors of the living.” An “enigmatic sphinx,” he died at 74 “but seemed a boy of fourteen.” Schwob, who spoke three languages when he was 3, later took to using morphine. After a failed trip to Samoa to meet Robert Louis Stevenson, he returned home and locked himself in a house with his books. After he died, the “room smoked of grief.” The Keats piece is the longest and best. It begins: “In 1803, the guillotine was a common children’s toy.” Extremely bright, he “became the scribe and secretary to his mind” and forged friendships with Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Shelley (“lukewarm”), Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Before he died at the age of 25, Keats “spoke for hours in a lucid delirium [and]...never lost his faculties.” After his death, “they stripped the walls and floor and burned all of the furniture.” One of the only drawbacks of this book is its shortness. It would have been ideal if the publisher could have added additional essays.

Enjoy these short, meditative pieces slowly; Jaeggy is addictive.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2687-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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