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THE VOYEUR'S MOTEL

Undoubtedly creepy and unnerving but also an entirely compelling slice of seamy American life.

The disturbing private world of the sleaziest motel manager since Norman Bates.

The latest book by new journalism pioneer Talese (A Writer’s Life, 2006, etc.) is the story of the author's decadeslong correspondence with Colorado businessman Gerald Foos, an unashamed peeping Tom who spent years spying on clients at his roadside motel. From the attic over a room structurally fitted with a fake ceiling vent, Foos watched—and recorded, in a series of journals—the private lives of his guests, writing up (and often masturbating over) graphic accounts of the couplings of horny singles, adulterous professionals, threesomes, lesbians, widows with paid escorts, incestuous siblings, and men in costumes, among many others. He also saw lots of bored married couples watching TV. Foos views himself not just as a voyeur, but as a “pioneering sex researcher,” not unlike Kinsey, Masters, and Johnson—or perhaps Talese himself, whose 1980 Thy Neighbor’s Wife chronicled the sexual revolution from his perspective as both observer and participant. “Someone has to be delegated the responsibility to confront these tangible existences and tell other people about them,” Foos writes in one journal entry. “Herein is the intrinsic essence of the Voyeur.” Foos writes a functional, unfussy prose, which Talese both ably condenses and quotes at generous length. The character that emerges from this tightly woven narrative is oddly ambivalent. At some level, he's a little like Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet, indulging this purely human desire to see what has always been hidden. But spying also fed Foos’ ego and allowed him to exert power over his guests, who became lab rats for both his obsessions and his power trips. Most disturbingly, he recalls how he once interceded in the life of a guest and inadvertently both caused and witnessed her murder. (The case, investigated at some length, remains shrouded in mystery.)

Undoubtedly creepy and unnerving but also an entirely compelling slice of seamy American life.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2581-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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