A stunningly written, unevenly paced series of essays about California.

INTER STATE

ESSAYS FROM CALIFORNIA

A native Californian of Mexican descent mourns the ways in which his home state has been rendered inaccessible and unrecognizable to those who remain.

A self-described “Mexi-Rican,” essayist and playwright Vadi begins his journey by attempting to retrace his grandfather’s life as a migrant worker in Southern California, uncovering a history he is not sure his grandfather ever wanted him to know. The author then takes readers to the Bay Area, introducing us to Suzy’s, a San Francisco bar where he has fond memories of playing the jukebox every Monday after work. Vadi describes meeting friends on Market Street, avoiding arrest at a 2009 Oakland protest against the murder of a detained young Black man named Oscar Grant, skateboarding at a park colloquially known as “Hubba Hideout,” and encountering racism at a performance of the Nutcracker. The narrative ultimately returns to Southern California, and the author introduces his mother and father, who still live in Pomona, where the author grew up. Regardless of setting, every essay in this sharp collection addresses a different aspect of California’s gentrification, but the thread that holds the pieces together is Vadi’s own confusion, anger, and bitterness at watching the state that he knows and loves fade away before his eyes, providing a modern rejoinder to Richard Rodriguez’s kindred memoir Brown. At a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax, and precise diction. Vadi’s talent shines in his descriptions of characters like his beloved but abused father or when he is raging against economic and social injustices, which are especially acute for “the broad swath of citizens and undocumented workers alike at the bottom of the wage-for-existence economic hierarchy.” Unfortunately, these characters, whom the narrator has lovingly shaped, disappear for pages at a time, resulting in sections bogged down by detail and a lack of momentum.

A stunningly written, unevenly paced series of essays about California.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59376-695-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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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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