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

AVOID THE DAY

A NEW NONFICTION IN TWO MOVEMENTS

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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

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GREENLIGHTS

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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