Smart and concerned essays and arguments from an author whose global concerns haven’t flagged.

BURNING QUESTIONS

ESSAYS AND OCCASIONAL PIECES, 2004 TO 2021

Recent essays by the acclaimed novelist on art, feminism, censorship, inspirations, and her own work.

Atwood’s third collection of essays, reviews, speeches, and book introductions covers work from 2004 to 2021, during which time she cemented her place as a literary legend. Her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, became an established classic, a hit TV series, and, as the Trump years neared and then arrived, troublingly prescient. In multiple essays, Atwood discusses that novel’s inspiration, creation, and influence—and how she came to write its 2019 sequel, The Testaments. In the context of that book and others (particularly her climate novels), this collection is marked both by her ongoing concern with the ethical and moral issues her fiction raises and an appealing flexibility in terms of subject matter. She treats keynote-speech invitations as opportunities to research subjects she otherwise might not. At a conference for nurses, she explored the distinctions between compassion and empathy, and at a gathering of neurologists, the role of the brain in fiction. Still, there are certain themes to which the author consistently returns. Literary inspirations are key, from fellow Canadians like Alice Munro to feminist polestars like Simone de Beauvoir and Ursula K. Le Guin to canonized authors like Shakespeare, whom she discusses with particular attention and verve in multiple pieces. (Most of them touch on her 2016 novel, Hag-Seed, a reimagining of The Tempest.) The cyclical nature of crises is another theme. In the context of The Handmaid’s Tale and Covid-19, Atwood writes eloquently about how misogynist and epidemiological crises have habitually repeated themselves throughout history. Resistance to censorship informs many of these pieces, though the author also pushes back against the kind of groupthink that demands writers always be political spokespersons. Throughout, her tone is sprightly and informed; only an essay from the perspective of an extraterrestrial from planet Mashupzyx feels half-baked.

Smart and concerned essays and arguments from an author whose global concerns haven’t flagged.

Pub Date: March 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54748-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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