An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.

AUTUMN

The acclaimed author delivers a host of brief but insightful observations about the small matters of everyday life.

In the My Struggle series, Knausgaard mined his life but called it fiction, crafting an epic story with a novelistic shape. This book, the first in a quartet with seasonal themes, is explicitly autobiographical but less personally revealing, looking outward instead of inward. Contemplating the upcoming birth of his daughter, the author asks, “what makes life worth living?” The answer: details. The book is built on an assortment of short essays on a wide range of topics, including frogs, photographs, beds, and tin cans. “Autumn” is a framing device, but not every essay engages with the season. What truly unites these pieces is Knausgaard’s sensibility, which is one part Montaigne (an urge to address big issues), one part Nicholson Baker (an eye for picayune detail), and one part Annie Dillard (an admiration for nature and an elegant prose style). Watching beekeepers, he finds an intersection of man and nature that "shows human beings at their most subservient and perhaps also at their most beautiful.” “Fever” triggers memories of his parents doting on his childhood illnesses. (“With fever came privileges. Meals in bed. Grapes. New comic books.”) “Forgiveness” is a sketch about his wonderment at how humans could culturally arrive at a capacity for mercy. Considering bird migrations, he finds not a clichéd sense of freedom but evidence of nature’s boundaries. Because each chapter is brief, usually about three pages, Knausgaard can’t deliver more than glancing consideration of any one subject, and three pages each on female genitalia and vomit is more than plenty. But in the aggregate, the pieces feel remarkably substantive, a call to pay closer attention to the routine stuff in our lives and to allow ourselves to be thunderstruck by their beauty.

An engagingly wide-ranging set of meditations.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56330-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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