Fond, charming snapshots from a lost age.

PRICKLY ROSES

STORIES FROM A LIFE

Anecdotes from a late-in-life writer revealing an unusual family history.

In her first book, Abell, who was born in 1925 and did not start writing until her 60s, offers a series of dispatches from her childhood. She has an engaging, straightforward style, and each chapter homes in on one aspect of her growing up in unusual places and her erratic parents. In the first piece, “Little Girl Tossed,” the author gives a lively sense of what was important to her 25-year-old parents in the fall of 1928—not her, apparently. Recent graduates of Columbia University and Barnard College, they used the gift of a Buick to quit their service jobs in New York City and head to New Orleans, sleeping in farmhouses along the way and working odd jobs. When Abell became an encumbrance, she was handed off to a farm wife for five weeks; while in New Orleans, she was tossed around by drunken guests at her parents’ Prohibition parties. Her father, an aspiring writer who took a job in Chicago because of pressure from his wife’s rich family, was an opaque, misunderstood presence in his daughter’s life. In “Zayde and Bubbe,” the author recalls how she was dumped at her Yiddish-speaking paternal grandparents’ farm in Connecticut for some weeks when she was 4; she bonded intensely with them but later learned that her father’s shame about them stemmed from his mother’s illiteracy. In one rather shocking episode when Abell was 12, her father, suffering from claustrophobia, asked her to take a walk with him, and in her imagination, he seemed to want to hurl her from the edge of a bluff—“He might push me over the edge and get rid of me forever to make his life better.” Elsewhere, Abell re-creates her astonishing overseas trip to Albania at age 5—where her maternal grandfather, Herman Bernstein, was the newly appointed ambassador—unaccompanied, of course, and playing up her status as a worldly “smartypants.”

Fond, charming snapshots from a lost age.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9969726-5-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Passager Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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