Some wooly mysticism fogs up these pages but overall, a well-researched and thoughtfully framed study of an often...

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WHERE THE HEART BEATS

JOHN CAGE, ZEN BUDDHISM, AND THE INNER LIFE OF ARTISTS

An unconventional biography of avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992) and the profound influence Zen Buddhism had on his music.

Cage is most famous for 4’33”, a 1952 work whose audacity—essentially four minutes and 33 seconds of silence in which the only sounds are those of the performance environment—inspired a raft of experimental artists. The piece has also been mocked for its anybody-can-do-that simplicity. However, as longtime art critic Larson makes clear, it sprung from years of deep spiritual practice and hard thinking about the structure of music. Beginning his career on the West Coast, Cage studied with pioneering modernist composers Arnold Schoenberg and Henry Cowell but broke free to find ways to integrate music with the noise of everyday life. At the same time, he grew enchanted with varieties of religious mysticism, studying under D.T. Suzuki, who helped promote Zen Buddhism in the West. In time, Cage’s work acquired an openness that ultimately produced 4’33”. Larson structures the book as a kind of call and response between Cage and his associates, alternating paragraphs of conventional biography with extended, often gnomic, quotations from Cage. The strategy is most effective when it shows the effect his uncanny calm had on others: Composers like Morton Feldman and Yoko Ono and painters like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were all influenced by Cage’s thinking. However, Larson’s approach does leave Cage’s life as more of a mystery than a biography perhaps ought to. After the triumph of 4’33”, she dwells little on the details of her subject’s life, only briefly noting that Cage struggled with his homosexuality and kept his decades-long relationship with choreographer Merce Cunningham a secret.

Some wooly mysticism fogs up these pages but overall, a well-researched and thoughtfully framed study of an often misunderstood artist.

Pub Date: July 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-340-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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

NIGHT

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

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