A thorough, evocative, and deeply reverent remembrance.

BEING A BALLERINA

THE POWER AND PERFECTION OF A DANCING LIFE

Former ballerina Larsen recounts her career as a professional dancer from childhood training through retirement in her debut memoir.

The author draws on an 18-year career dancing with companies such as the Oregon Ballet Theatre and Suzanne Farrell Ballet in this book, which chronicles her journey toward becoming a principal dancer. In loosely chronological essays and recollections, she begins at the New York School of Ballet as a shy 8-year-old beginner holding her own after accidentally wandering into an advanced class: “you kept up so well, and you’ll catch up to everyone else quickly,” said the teacher. From there, the author describes her development, sometimes in first-person vignettes, other times in third-person narratives that evoke the storybook qualities of the ballets she eventually performed. Anecdotes include accounts of a debut performance in which Larsen had to learn an entirely new role five hours before curtain; a dance partner’s overconfidence resulting in a broken rib; and a performance executed amid a priceless art collection. In thoughtful and approachable prose, she shares stories of artistic growth, professional setbacks, injuries, and triumphs, always highlighting the intensity of her relationship with dance: “The word ‘dancing’ implies playfulness, a carefree spirit. The paradox of classical ballet is that in order to display that quality to her audience, the dancer has to move within a strict set of physical rules that are anything but careless.…Our only safety nets are our bodies, training, and courage.” Larsen also never shies away from the brutal physicality of her craft, describing in meticulous detail the ways that a ballerina must manipulate her body and the toll that such dedication can take. Her candor demystifies her profession, whether she’s describing pre-show breakdowns, the slog of auditioning, or how she protected her joints and feet. Still, Larsen also takes special care to celebrate the beauty and power of her art form. Overall, this is a lovely debut that’s relatable, engaging, and unafraid to show vulnerability.

A thorough, evocative, and deeply reverent remembrance.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-81-306689-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Univ. Press of Florida

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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