An illuminating, well-written history of a unique place.

FIRE ISLAND

A CENTURY IN THE LIFE OF AN AMERICAN PARADISE

A vibrant social history of the iconic bastion of queer culture and leisure.

Inspired by the work of poet Frank O’Hara, a frequent visitor to Fire Island who was tragically killed in a freakish accident there in 1966, Parlett first ventured to the island in 2017 while furthering his doctoral research on American poetry and cruising. His experiences during this visit, as a curious researcher who was also actively engaged in the gay party scene, serve as the launching point for this uniquely insightful and colorful cultural history. Parlett traces the extraordinary literary heritage of the island, including its earliest foundation, laid by Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde; midcentury luminaries (W.H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Patricia Highsmith) and their booze-fueled escapades; and later, the more serious, politically charged influence of James Baldwin, who drew much-needed attention to the narrow Whiteness of the community. The hedonistic, sex-and-drug–laden tenor of the 1970s and ’80s, portrayed in novels by Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, and others, was ravaged by the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, which had an indelible, long-lasting impact on the island’s literary and artistic culture. “Along with the many artists and writers lost to AIDS,” writes Parlett, “came the loss of an engaged and informed audience; the readership that kept gay publishing afloat, and the wider sense of a community consuming and critiquing the work of its own luminaries and emerging voices.” Throughout the book, the author smoothly interweaves an enlightened perspective of the island’s influence and importance with candid appraisals of its shortcomings, especially related to cultural homogenization and the overwhelming Whiteness that has continued into the 21st century. “Fire Island feels like a case study of utopian imperfections,” writes Parlett, “of the way norms become entrenched and inequalities perpetuated in a place defined by the fact that it is not, simply, for everyone.”

An illuminating, well-written history of a unique place.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-335-47518-3

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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