A fascinating and evocative memoir in essays.

BECOMING STORY

A JOURNEY AMONG SEASONS, PLACES, TREES, AND ANCESTORS

A Coast Miwok leader narrates his life through essays focusing on his connection to the natural world and his ancestors.

Now in his 15th term as chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Sarris divides the book into four sections: "Seasons," "Places," "Trees," and "Ancestors." The author writes about how he was adopted and didn’t know his true heritage until his late 20s, explores significant moments in his childhood and teen years, and reminisces about Sonoma County, where he grew up and still lives. Moving through time, Sarris often breaks from the narrative to give further personal context about a certain experience—e.g., “That was so long ago. A million stories ago. Of course, I found out who my father was, and now I can look back and understand things I hadn’t the faintest idea of before”—and most of the essays subtly echo each other. Regarding the progression from winter to spring, Sarris writes, “New growth, blossoms, sedge sprouting on creek banks—when, after winter, it is no longer safe to tell stories, not only because you must pay attention to where you are going, watchful for snakes and such, but because you too are coming out, becoming story.” In a standout piece, the author examines the Hetch Hetchy Valley and his vision of how it could look at certain points in the future if properly cared for—but as he notes, “Nature’s strange dynamism is beyond our control.” Although not a traditional memoir, the stories mostly build on each other to create a coherent portrait of the author and his culture. “History, it’s no less tangible, palpable, than that grandmother under whose care you found yourself,” he writes. “In a kitchen you have known all your life, with its familiar smells and colors, this grandmother sets a plate of warm tortillas on the table with a bowl of chicken soup and says, ‘Eat.’ ”

A fascinating and evocative memoir in essays.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-59714-567-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Heyday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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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