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TRICK MIRROR

REFLECTIONS ON SELF-DELUSION

Exhilarating, groundbreaking essays that should establish Tolentino as a key voice of her generation.

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A popular young writer tackles a host of cultural movements in her debut collection of essays.

In these nine stunning pieces, New Yorker staff writer Tolentino seamlessly melds together journalistic social criticism and revealing personal essays. To varying degrees of intimate context, she places herself within each narrative, reporting on broad social currents while revealing very specific encounters. Among the many topics the author explores: the expansive influence of the internet and social media; the increasing social pressure to optimize our interests and aspirations at all times (especially for women); the alarming proliferation and increased tolerance of scamming; societal, somewhat idealized traditions such as marriage and, more specifically, weddings. Tolentino recounts her experience with reality TV and reflects on her teenage identity when she appeared as a contestant in Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico. “Reality TV had not yet created a whole new type of person,” she writes, “the camera-animated assemblage of silicone and pharmaceuticals; we hadn’t yet seen the way organic personalities could decay on unscripted television, their half-lives measured through sponsored laxative-tea Instagrams and paid appearances at third-tier regional clubs.” She also recalls favorite literary books from her past, assessing the heroines’ varying plights in guiding her current feminist leanings. While offering razor-sharp commentary on the underbelly of our culture, she can also appreciate its attraction. Furthermore, she acknowledges her particular conundrum, having established her niche as a writer by staying in tune with cultural trends: “I don’t know what to do with the fact…that my career is possible in large part because of the way the internet collapses identity, opinion, and action—and that I, as a writer whose work is mostly critical and often written in first person, have some inherent stake in justifying the dubious practice of spending all day trying to figure out what you think.” Tolentino offers a millennial perspective that is deeply grounded, intellectually transcending her relative youth. She brings fresh perspective to current movements in a manner similar to that of Joan Didion in the 1960s and ’70s.

Exhilarating, groundbreaking essays that should establish Tolentino as a key voice of her generation.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51054-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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