LOOKING TO THE STARS FROM OLD ALGIERS by Jan  Risher

LOOKING TO THE STARS FROM OLD ALGIERS

And Other Long Stories Short
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A collection of newspaper columns reflects on the joys of family and travel.

Risher (Long Story Short, 2011) has written a newspaper column for the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, Louisiana, for more than 16 years. Here she assembles her own favorites—the ones that “were the strongest—or ones that held a sentimental place in my heart”—of those published between 2002 and 2017. The essays are generally very brief and cover a wide range of topics, including her childhood in Mississippi, her adoption of a daughter from China, her work as an English teacher and journalist, and her happy marriage. Family and travel form the twin pillars of these intimately personal columns, a profound sense of belonging thoughtfully juxtaposed with the equally powerful allure of wanderlust: “Traveling revives me in a way that nothing else does. I can’t do justice in describing the richness it has brought to my life, the friends I’ve made in new places or the relationships strengthened by the shared experience travel offers.” The author roams the world insatiably—West Africa, Honduras, and post-Katrina New Orleans are among the highlights—and chronicles her adventures with sensitively rendered insights and humor. She also intelligently discusses the nature of storytelling itself—she comes from a long line of raconteurs and seems to see herself, at least professionally, as an English teacher first and foremost. Risher’s prose is confidential and familiar in tone—she writes exclusively in the first person, and each installment reads like a journal entry, the totality of which amounts to an impressionistic memoir. At her best, the author is a breezily informal campfire storyteller; her tales are not quite literary but certainly companionably readable. But her essays can be a bit didactic, too eager to deliver a pithy moral lesson. In addition, their principal virtue doubles as their chief vice—the essays are impressively candid but so personal it’s not immediately obvious why they would resonate with unfamiliar readers. This is a well-written diary, and despite the fact that all the essays are previously published, they don’t always seem as if they were composed to be read by others.

An astute, if idiosyncratically personal, archive of essays.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-946160-33-1
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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