WANTING A CHILD

TWENTY-TWO LITERARY WRITERS ON THEIR DIFFICULT BUT MOSTLY SUCCESSFUL QUESTS FOR PARENTHOOD

Yet another well-crafted single-subject essay collection, this one about the difficulties of becoming parents. Poet Bialosky and novelist Schulman (Out of Time, 1991, etc.) have assembled the works of 22 writers that reveal how for them, like many who have the natural desire for children, “things don’t come as easily or as quickly as we once imagined they would.” They show that the obstacles touch families of all kinds, including straight, gay, step-families, and single parents, and spring from several sources—postponement of pregnancy, a late marriage, no marriage, adoption agency horrors. For Bob Shacochis, the issue is in the couple’s inability to conceive; for Steve Byrnes, it’s surrogacy for a same-sex family; for Tama Janowitz, it’s an adoption in China; for Phillip Lopate, it’s a young daughter’s chronic illness; for Bialosky, it’s honoring two infant deaths. Some tales are harrowing, some joyful; but none are simple. And all, no matter the situation, incorporate Barbara Jones’s observation about parental obsession—that “once you have thought of her as yours . . . nothing will stop you from wanting her. And only some terrible force outside of your control will prevent you from having her.” Yet despite the diversity in experience and notion of family, there are similarities of age and outlook that readers may find either reassuring or redundant. These works hold the views of a reflective middle age. Just as similar are the narrators: Articulate, analytical, they often live hand-to-mouth and keep odd schedules—why, they’re writers! Anyone looking for the experiences of a lawyer or sales clerk will have to wait for an oral history or an afternoon talk show. For those in prime parenting years who have faced such trials, these are voices of comfort and wonder.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-28634-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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