A fine core soured by the writer’s own story.

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MY UTMOST

A DEVOTIONAL MEMOIR

An exploration of one of Christianity’s great devotional works.

In her debut book, former New Yorker writer Halford fashions a memoir around a study of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest (1935). Chambers (1874-1917) was a Scottish evangelist best known for a daily devotional edited from his writings and published posthumously. Utmost, as Halford refers to it, is a bestselling devotional, highly popular with evangelicals—including, as the author learned to her horror, George W. Bush. Halford, a Southern Baptist from Texas who went on to work in New York City, with stints in Paris and the U.K., struggled with the gulf between the world of her youth and that of her adulthood. Having spent years reading Utmost on a daily basis, she set out to study Chambers and more fully understand his motivations and ideals. She couches her study within her own autobiography, an intriguing concept that meets with only partial success. Halford finds in Chambers a kindred spirit in many ways. An avid reader and intellectual, Chambers was deeply shaped by the secular writers of his day; as such, “the book was shot through with the influence of poetry and fiction, those breeds of literature that traffic as heavily in mood as they do in ideas.” Halford concludes that the Realism movement was one of Chambers’ primary influences. She also learns of his complex spiritual journey, which included a profound moment of sanctification, as well as the effects of World War I on his faith life. Ultimately, however, Chambers’ rich, intense, and selfless life and faith journey stand in stark contrast to Halford’s 21st-century angst over not fitting in with New York or Parisian intellectuals yet also not being part of the evangelical crowd either. This gulf disrupts an otherwise worthy study. Halford’s in-depth look at Chambers is interesting and instructive, but her memoir is thin in comparison.

A fine core soured by the writer’s own story.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-95798-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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