A short account that paints a thorough and vivid portrait of one man’s American life.

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A memoir chronicles a teacher’s youth in the Midwest and his struggles as an adult.

Debut author Baxter was born in 1948 in Kansas. His childhood was a happy one, thanks in no small part to his grandmother Younkin. Grandma was a retired English teacher with a fondness for literature, rocking chairs, and canasta. The book encompasses a number of vignettes from the author’s younger days, including the time in 1956 that his father caught him stealing hubcaps from car tires and how in 1965 he participated in a prank involving potassium from a chemistry class. He met his wife as a freshman at the University of Kansas. He eventually decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandmother and became a high school English teacher. The career path was not always easy. The author learned the hard way that his own love of books would not carry over to his students through “osmosis.” Recollections from the author’s adult years become more fraught. He writes of how, in retrospect, he always felt a separation from his mother, asserting: “I know I was loved, but it was from a distance.” He became overweight. At one of his children’s soccer games, a man in a NASCAR hat called him “fatty.” He explained to his therapist that he had the feeling of a kind of black hole overtaking him. And then there was the death of his first son, Jordan, in infancy. The author explains how “the memory of Jordan’s short life still fills my eyes with a juxtaposition of smiles and tears.” It is just such a juxtaposition that is at the heart of this slender volume (under 100 pages). The book consists of chapters that are rarely more than a few pages long. Readers get an inkling of some of Baxter’s worst and best times without too much lingering on either category. The outcome is certainly a breezy read, though some points could have used greater elaboration. For instance, the author mentions being a teacher in 1999 at the time of the Columbine High School shootings. Although the senselessness of the event disturbed him in obvious ways, it would have been informative to learn more. What was the discussion like in his workplace? What did he tell his students? Were his fellow teachers worried? Nevertheless, the memoir’s brevity is also a wonderful asset. No words are wasted on complicated family origin stories, minor triumphs that do not translate well on the page (for example, a promotion at work), or other miscellaneous events that would be of limited interest to readers. The audience is instead given choice segments of Baxter’s very personal experiences. The author points out that “humanity resides in minute details,” and it is just such specifics that fill the pages without overburdening them.  

A short account that paints a thorough and vivid portrait of one man’s American life.    

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4809-5001-6

Page Count: 86

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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