A book that focuses appealingly on the visceral complexities of our private lives.

CRAIGSLIST CONFESSIONAL

A COLLECTION OF SECRETS FROM ANONYMOUS STRANGERS

Anthology of dramatic first-person testimonials collected by a driven author for whom a personal pastime became a public obsession.

This book reflects the website CraigslistConfessional.com, which Bala developed due to dissatisfaction with her demanding career as an attorney and lobbyist. She describes her work as “a project about hearing and seeing what others don’t—about pulling back the curtain that separates our secretive inner lives from our perfectly curated outer lives. My ‘job’ is to listen when no one else will.” At first, she was only seeking mutual catharsis; eventually, “I amended my original Craigslist ad to include a plan: I wanted to write these stories down and hopefully, some day, publish them.” She was so determined to pursue this that she curtailed her career to do so. The resulting volume is organized broadly, along the themes of “Love,” “Regret,” “Loss,” “Identity,” and “Family,” with 40 subjects across a spectrum of gender, social class, and age. Bala deftly captures these diverse voices—some gloomy, others hopeful—resulting in lively, empathetic biographical tableaux. She stays attuned to her anonymous subjects’ lived experiences, following arcs that sometimes lead from deviance or despair to redemption. One former prisoner notes after 15 years’ imprisonment, “the outside is cruel. It doesn’t care if you did the crime or you deserved your punishment, or you served your time.” Many stories concern flight from addiction or abuse, such as that of a young woman still ashamed of her years as an escort during college: “I was constantly trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad.” Episodes of loss include an older man reeling from the death of an alcoholic wife (“Up until the very end, I thought I could cure her”) and mothers haunted by the sudden deaths of children. Though some tales are maudlin or follow predictable patterns, readers should respond to the redemptive twist or optimism that often appears in the stories she has collected.

A book that focuses appealingly on the visceral complexities of our private lives.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982114-96-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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