A literate meditation on clipped-lawn places easily taken for granted but that well deserve such reflection.

THE SPRAWL

RECONSIDERING THE WEIRD AMERICAN SUBURBS

A scion of the suburbs considers how housing shapes destiny.

Suburbia was a largely postwar phenomenon, born of the need to provide homes for returning veterans eager to start families and trading on a long-standing dream that was hitherto reserved only for the rich—namely, “a place outside the city.” This dream was initially reserved, too, for a special class of people: whites for whom low-cost, low-interest loans were readily available courtesy of the Federal Housing Administration. That has changed, writes Diamond, who wrote of suburban life in his 2016 book Searching for John Hughes. Now there are suburbs made up of people of diverse ethnicities, albeit usually segregated. More than half of Americans live in suburbs, a fact that may surprise young city dwellers; if the countryside is ever emptier, the rings of settlements outside the cores of places such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles continue to grow. Diamond is interested in demographics but not exclusively. As the narrative progresses, the author becomes increasingly eloquent about such things as pop music—for much pop is driven by suburbanites, who share a “belief that you’re doing something bigger than the place you’re from”—literature as written by the likes of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Lethem, and film such as, yes, John Hughes’ oeuvre and Sofia Coppola’s interpretation of The Virgin Suicides. Clearly, Diamond has given a lot of thought to the “faux-pastoral” nature of the suburbs and their tendency to resist the formation of true communities. If the cultural aspects of his narrative tend to be a touch repetitive, the point is well taken, as is his thought that now-dying shopping malls across North America (cue Arcade Fire) might well be converted to community centers, “making the ones that remain into places that serve a greater purpose.”

A literate meditation on clipped-lawn places easily taken for granted but that well deserve such reflection.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56689-582-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

more