A lovely cautionary tale filled with pride, hope, and respect for the land and its history.

PASTORAL SONG

A FARMER'S JOURNEY

A beautifully written elegy to traditional farmers and farming methods.

In his second book, named by the Sunday Times as the best nature book of 2020 in the U.K., Rebanks begins by recounting his youth on his grandparents’ farm in the Lake District of England, tagging along with his grandfather as he did his work, teaching him the “old ways.” He compassionately describes riding along in the tractor as “black-headed gulls follow in our wake as if we are a little fishing boat out at sea.” He also shares fond memories of picking blackberries and making jam with his grandmother. “My grandmother was an expert at turning the things the farm grew, harvested and reared into meals,” writes the author. “Almost everything she cooked was home-grown, seasonal and local.” Over the years, however, Rebanks witnessed the lamentable transformation of the land as corporations began buying local farms and introducing “modern” technologies. By the time he inherited the family farm, most of the local farmers and workers were gone, there were no worms in the fields, and the stone barns, walls, and hedges had been ploughed in the name of progress. The tools and practices introduced decades earlier had taken their toll, and much of the damage was irreversible. Even as people became more obsessed with food, they remained disconnected from the land. People worried about what they should eat and wanted options, but they had little knowledge regarding how to sustainably produce food. “I had inherited a complex bundle of economic and ecological challenges—and that, perhaps, was what it really meant to be a farmer,” writes Rebanks in this eloquent tribute to a vanishing way of life. Guided by the knowledge passed down by his family and recent advances in sustainable technology, the author continues his journey, slowly salvaging his tiny corner of the world to create a legacy for his children and the future.

A lovely cautionary tale filled with pride, hope, and respect for the land and its history.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-307327-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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