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Witty, reflective, opinionated essays from a writer with the ability to “laugh in dark times.”

A new collection of personal essays from a self-proclaimed “depressive pessimist” and “angry, bird-loving misfit.”

Franzen’s (Purity, 2015, etc.) third collection of recently published essays and speeches sparkles with intelligent and insightful forays into a limited range of subjects. The opening piece, “The Essay in Dark Times,” could function as a primer for the book. We might be “living in an essayistic golden age,” while the personal essay “is in eclipse.” After recounting lessons learned while working on an essay with a wise New Yorker editor, the author jumps to bashing a “short-fingered vulgarian” and his “lying, bullying tweets,” concluding with his bird obsession and global warming, the “biggest issue in all of human history.” In “Why Birds Matter,” Franzen lovingly describes falcons, roadrunners, and albatrosses, among others. “Wild birds matter,” Franzen writes, because “they are our last, best connection to a natural world that is otherwise receding.” In another piece, the author describes his visit to South America to observe the beleaguered Amazon Conservation Association in action. In “May Your Life Be Ruined,” he chronicles his travels to Egypt to painfully watch migratory bird-killing with Bedouin falcon trappers. There’s literature here, too. In the expected writer-to-writers advice essay, he offers up one page of 10 pithy, odd dos and don’ts—e.g., “You see more sitting still than chasing after.” Franzen resuscitates Edith Wharton, praising her “most generously realized” The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, in which she “embraces her new-fashioned divorce plot as zestfully as Nabokov embraces pedophilia in Lolita.” There’s also the affectionate “A Friendship,” in which the author praises William Vollmann’s work ethic, vast projects, fine style, and “hunger for beautiful form.” The last, titular essay about a voyage to Antarctica is worth the cover price.

Witty, reflective, opinionated essays from a writer with the ability to “laugh in dark times.”

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-14793-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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