Six iridescent essays in lieu of an autobiography. Updike penned these luxurious self-examinations soon after someone informed him of a "repulsive" plan to write his biography. Although the pieces collected here will surely not fend off the multiple Lives to come, they do provide snug, friendly glimpses into the reflective mind of a writer abnormal in his normality (churchgoer, Democrat, cheerful participant at town meetings); they also confirm Updike's status as one of America's foremost literary stylists. In "A Soft Spring Night in Shillington," a tour-de-force of compressed memories, he walks through his Childhood while wandering his hometown streets one rainy night in 1980. "At War with My Skin" documents his lifelong struggle against that silver-scaled beast, psoriasis, and doubles as a celebration of the Puritan enclave of Ipswich, Mass., where he lived for over a decade, became rich and famous, and learned to swim in the "soft, pale-green ocean." "Getting the Words Out" dissects the author's difficulties with speech (he stutters), asthma, claustrophobia, and his redemptive love affair with writing. In "On Not Being a Dove," Updike discusses his ambivalence about the Vietnam War. The least successful essay, "A Letter to My Grandson"—too private to generate general interest—explores the genealogy of the "big, bumptious race" of Updikes. Finally, in "On Being a Self Forever," Updike longs for an afterlife, wonders "Where does the self dawn?" and asserts his lasting conviction that "the self's responsibility. . .is to achieve rapport if not rapture with the giant, cosmic other: to appreciate, let's say, the walk back from the mailbox." Self-probings—sometimes facile, sometimes dead-on—of a complex, funny, modest man, framed in glorious prose. A neat masterpiece of literary undressing.

Pub Date: March 18, 1989

ISBN: 044921821X

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989


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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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