Both elegant and elegiac—vintage Woiwode.

A STEP FROM DEATH

A MEMOIR

Poet and novelist Woiwode (My Dinner with Auden, 2007, etc.) ponders matters of life, death and what lies between.

The author used to be a resident of Manhattan, writing for William Maxwell at the New Yorker and enjoying big-city life until, one day, he “read in the New York Times that breathing the city air was equal to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, at a time when I was up to two myself.” Country life beckoned, first East and then way out West, in the scarcely inhabited wilds of western North Dakota, where he is now poet laureate and where, tending to a dozen or so horses and a bunch of cats, he grows enough wheat, he notes with satisfaction, to feed a few thousand people. He is possibly the only Dakota wheat farmer to quote punk goddess Patti Smith in defense of farming, and he is among the few writers of the present age who knows how to grow pasta—no minor thing. And no more dirty air: Now death stalks him in a different guise, hiding, say, in the gears of a tractor’s power takeoff. Death is a fact of life, and not just out on the farm: This gentle memoir sets out from the author’s vantage of a vigorous 63 years (“a year older than my father when he died”) and weaves its way across the decades, often calling on the now departed. Woiwode directly addresses his son throughout, a young man who had his own bad tangle with a tractor but made it through, only to go on to fly helicopters in Iraq. The device sometimes seems an afterthought, but the finely honed meditations are not: “I imagine death as a . . . stepping down to levels of loss, but death is an end, not the continuing dispersal I’m contending with.”

Both elegant and elegiac—vintage Woiwode.

Pub Date: March 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58243-373-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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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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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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