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A beautifully written field guide to being weird.

One of the country’s most gifted transgressive writers pens a love letter to her fellow misfits.

By all accounts, not least her own, Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan, 2017, etc.) has lived a difficult life. After a stillborn daughter, a suicide attempt, heroin addiction, three marriages, a DUI arrest, and a bout of homelessness, one would forgive the author for not sharing. But unlike her devastating memoir (The Chronology of Water, 2011), here she offers up her mistakes couched in a message of hope. Based on her 2016 TED Talk, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit,” it offers a bold, clear statement about the character of artists and an individual’s right to nonconformity. Early on, Yuknavitch delivers an insightful mantra: “If there’s one phrase that I should probably tattoo on my forehead it is this: I’m not the story you made of me.” The opening to the third chapter, “The Myth that Suffering Makes You Stronger,” is, “What a crock of shit.” You have to give it to the author for telling it like it is, at least for her. Along the way, she chronicles her interviews with other writers, artists, friends, and nonconformists, offering a more global portrait of what it’s like to live outside traditional social frameworks. In “The Misfit’s Journey, or, Why the Hero’s Journey Bites,” she offers a searing prosecution of an old archetypal chestnut: “Here’s another secret: a lot of us are also secretly empathizing with the so-called villain. I’ve been arrested. I’ve gone to jail and rehab. I’m no hero. But every fall I’ve taken has shown me how to be a better person. Profoundly.” Far from being an advice manual, the book is more of an enlightened lesson in forgiving one’s self and moving forward: “News flash! I might fuck up again. As a matter of fact, I’m quite certain I will. But it will not mean I’m nothing.”

A beautifully written field guide to being weird.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4711-6232-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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