An ambitious, strange psychodrama for fans of chimerical nonfiction odysseys.



A creative writing professor’s memoir about coming to terms with his father’s impending death.

With his father on his deathbed, Kirk couldn’t bear to face the inevitable. They had a troubled relationship, and, as much as the author tried to distinguish himself from his minister father, who “only showed me how to put on the spectacle of holiness,” he fears that they are too much the same. While his father had issues with alcohol, Kirk’s own struggles were worse, with other substances intensifying the effects of the booze—and rendering him an unreliable narrator. The author also suspects that he, like his father, is something of a hypocrite, a charlatan at his own chosen altar of journalism. “It was almost as if I’d been suddenly deprogrammed from a faulty cult of my own making,” he writes. “That cult having something to do with the rigors of my trade….I had developed an acute allergy to experience itself.” Nevertheless, Kirk dove into a piece of long-form investigative journalism involving Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and a missing musical manuscript. The author’s quest took him from archives and a series of locations in his native Northeast to Transylvania, where the composer first heard the folk music that would subsequently inform his own work. All of this builds to a delirious vision of Kirk’s father’s being torn apart while, in fact, the Bartók story seems to be deteriorating: “The trail has gone cold. I’ll never know any more than this.” His half-baked account subsequently finds him embarking on a wilder adventure to the Arctic Circle, toward the heart of darkness in the eternal sunlight, without much of an epiphany or resolution. While some readers may applaud the author’s approach—essentially, writing around a topic that is difficult to explore—as audacious and psychologically harrowing, many will find the work required for the payoff to be too arduous.

An ambitious, strange psychodrama for fans of chimerical nonfiction odysseys.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-235617-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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