A gentleman scholar and scold, Will continues to wield his sharp, discerning prose.

AMERICAN HAPPINESS AND DISCONTENTS

THE UNRULY TORRENT, 2008-2020

An overstuffed collection of the conservative columnist’s reviews and rarefied reflections from the Washington Post, geared toward his enduring “intellectually upscale” readers.

Organized by themes—American history, politics, baseball, obituaries, and books by favorite authors such as Max Hastings, Ron Chernow, and Rick Atkinson—this latest gathering of Will’s writing aspires to what he calls “trenchant elegance.” More often than not, he attains it. Railing against big government and the overreach of the executive branch, the author, well known for his old-school, small-L libertarianism and arch mannerisms, often returns to definitive moments in the ongoing story of America, such as the Cold War, the moon landing, and the JFK assassination. Regarding Hastings’ excellent recent book, Vietnam, Will writes, “Vietnam remains an American sorrow of squandered valor….U.S. statesmen and commanders, Hastings writes, lied too much to the nation and the world but most calamitously to themselves.” Some of Will’s irritations include the modern lack of civil discourse; presidential “prolixity” (the former president appears by name sparingly: “this low-rent Lear raging on his Twitter-heath has proven that the phrase malignant buffoon is not an oxymoron”), the “scandal” of mass incarceration and the overcriminalization of American life; and emotional support animals in airplanes. A deeply erudite, always opinionated commentator, Will laments the erosion of literacy and advocates for binge-reading rather than binge-watching, and he parses the intricacies of recent Supreme Court cases with authority. The author concludes this volume with tributes to some of his fallen heroes, such as Margaret Thatcher (“She had the smooth, cold surface of a porcelain figurine, but her decisiveness made her the most formidable woman in twentieth-century politics, and England’s most formidable woman since its greatest sover­eign, Elizabeth I”), Ronald Reagan, and, of course, National Review founder William F. Buckley, “the 20th century’s most consequential journalist.”

A gentleman scholar and scold, Will continues to wield his sharp, discerning prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-306-92441-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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