An extraordinary dual portrait of the author and his hometown—angry, tender, incisive, and bracingly eloquent.

SHELTER

A BLACK TALE OF HOMELAND, BALTIMORE

The misunderstood city of Baltimore receives a probing portrait by a returning native son.

In 2016, Jackson, a noted historian and biographer, returned from a professorship in Atlanta to his hometown of Baltimore, where he had been offered a joint appointment in history and English by Johns Hopkins, and he now directs the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts. It was a year after the police killing of Freddie Gray set the city aflame, and Jackson's purchase of a home in a historically White neighborhood is the point of departure for a series of essays that seamlessly blend history, journalism, and memoir. The author’s command of factual detail is matched by the laser clarity of his childhood memories, whether offering a taxonomy of his elementary school teachers or recollecting the loan of a landscaping tool by a neighbor. Jackson clarifies issues like whether Johns Hopkins should have a private police force with a full complement of reporting, analysis, introspection, and lament. One of myriad evocative sentences: "When ‘Prince of Peace’ rang out over the congregation in 1989 at St. James, I could claim to have experienced a shared spiritual presence, a palpable thickening of emotional connection with people who were not materially engaged. This is my main experience of transcendence outside of a nightclub dancing to deep house music, and only then on those rare occasions when I had sweated through my pants." Writing about bus drivers, the author showcases the brilliant embodiment of geography that will make this book come alive for non-Baltimoreans: "They displayed inimitable sangfroid as they plowed the twenty-ton behemoths into the rapid flow of traffic on Druid Hill Avenue before making the daring left turn at Cloverdale basketball court, all the while we passengers were showcased rarities, like the rotating carousel of pork loins in the window of Leon’s Pig Pen." Those are only two of countless passages of sparkling prose.

An extraordinary dual portrait of the author and his hometown—angry, tender, incisive, and bracingly eloquent.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64445-083-3

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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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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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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