In a diverse, impassioned book, these quick responders illustrate the impact of the pandemic with work of lasting value.

COVID CHRONICLES

A COMICS ANTHOLOGY

Extraordinary circumstances inspire a range of extraordinary artistic response, as this anthology attests.

As the pandemic lengthened and deepened, the response across the comics community intensified—first online, where many went viral, a turn of phrase that tinged a few shades darker in light of the virus. This volume launches the Graphic Mundi imprint from Penn State University Press. In the preface, Boileau, the publisher for the new imprint, writes that these comics “are documentary, memoiristic, meditative, lyrical, fantastic, and speculative, offering a view onto the countless ways the COVID-19 pandemic has changed lives.” All of the entries share one defining quality: immediacy of the moment, a response to the crisis from within it. A few are day-by-day diaries, including the opening narrative, by Jason Chatfield, about testing positive, in which he writes about his inability to meet his writing goal of trying “to finish a sentence.” Hatiye Garip’s “Corona Diary” is brief and wordless, achieving eloquence through a variety of shifting shapes and images. In “COVID Hardball,” Rich Johnson and Eli Neugeboren lay out a series of baseball cards of significant figures of the pandemic era, including New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern; Singapore’s Halimah Yacob; Donald Trump, who “repeatedly held large campaign rallies without requiring masking”; and Anthony Fauci, the “M.V.P. (Most Valuable Physician).” The collection also includes superheroes battling evil monsters and entries on the pandemic’s effects on Natives and other marginalized populations. Of course, there is the tragedy of death but also the inspiring poetry of trying to come to terms with what it all means. Boileau sums it up well: “Strange, perhaps, for these emotions to resonate so clearly in a medium that people often assume is either directed toward children or there for our amusement. But comics have a history of tackling weighty and mature subjects—and doing it well.” Add this book to that history.

In a diverse, impassioned book, these quick responders illustrate the impact of the pandemic with work of lasting value.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-271-09014-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Graphic Mundi

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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