An appealing collection about all the “rough and joyful realities” of life.

THE CHEMISTRY OF FIRE

ESSAYS

Reflective essays explore what it means to be human.

In the heartbreaking titular essay, Gonzales describes his ex-wife’s long battle with ovarian cancer, chronicling the progression of her illness and reminiscing about their early days together: “We talked about literature late into the night. We were in our early twenties, dazzled by life. We were beautiful. We were immortal. We were heedless, burning the days.” In these wide-ranging, welcoming pieces, the author shows himself to be a caring, questioning man with a dry wit and big heart. He once played in a band with the “gentle” albino guitarist Johnny Winter, who had “an unearthly way of moving his fingers.” Visiting him years later, Gonzales saw a man who ruined his life with drugs and careless sex. One night, writes the author, Winter “laid open a medicine chest he carried with him. Inside were a paper of heroin, one of coke, some PCP, MDA, THC, LSD, weed, hash, ups, reds, and a few assorted devices for the administration of those potions.” In “The All-Seeing Eye,” Gonzales writes about his father, a scientist who “loved things with lenses.” While visiting Las Vegas with some friends and his movie agents, he saw a sign that read, “Change Redemption,” which “struck me as an oddly spiritual concept in the midst of all this avaricious compulsion until I realized that it was referring to coins, not souls.” In an essay about hiking Mount Washington, which “has the worst weather in America,” the author recounts the deaths of two lost climbers and confronts the “mystery of why rational people do irrational things.” Writing about motorcycles, Gonzales learned the hard way that riding one is “about the most dangerous thing most people can figure out how to do.” Whether he’s swimming in an underwater cave or touring a NASA center in Huntsville, Alabama, “a kind of hillbilly heaven,” these savvy essays are a pleasure.

An appealing collection about all the “rough and joyful realities” of life.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68226-151-4

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of Arkansas

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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