A creative, rambling blend of memoir, fiction, and essay.

HOOP ROOTS

Novelist Wideman (The Cattle Killing, 1996, etc.) uses basketball as a doorway through which to glimpse black manhood.

Probing his memories and childhood for a larger meaning, as he did in such previous memoirs as Fatheralong (1994), Wideman focuses on basketball as a thread that ties together his past and present. It’s his present-day decision to stop playing that takes author and readers back to the summer when he first learned the game. With his father absent and his grandfather dead, the boy went to the basketball court to find what his mother and grandmother could not provide. In his interpretation (thankfully free of the hokum baseball seems to inspire in writers), playground games were rites of passage: not only did players measure their physical growth against others, they established seniority and passed on rules and etiquette that became marks of belonging. This is not a conventional memoir. Wideman also includes a paradigmatic short story entitled “Who Invented the Jump Shot (A Fable)” about a black dimwit who invents CPR only to be hung for touching a white woman; an argument for basketball as folk art; and a call to rename his childhood playground for two local legends. The latter is a particularly effective piece: Wideman makes archetypal giants of men already born large enough to excel at basketball, and in calling for a new name he looks forward to a future with black-defined meaning while evoking the past of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Malcolm X. Each chapter displays Wideman’s range as a writer and gives the text a richness that the well-trod field of memoir could not provide alone. He takes a lot of risks, but not always successfully. At points the narrative is needlessly vague and staccato, and Wideman’s interpretations of basketball are sometimes clouded by his love of the game. Still, a few missed shots are acceptable in both basketball and books.

A creative, rambling blend of memoir, fiction, and essay.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-85731-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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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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