GRACELAND, AT LAST

NOTES ON HOPE AND HEARTACHE FROM THE AMERICAN SOUTH

A wide-ranging look at the realities of the South.

A Southerner examines a complicated region.

Since August 2015, Renkl has contributed essays about the South to the New York Times, reflecting on nature and the environment, politics and religion, social justice, family and community, and arts and culture. From her home in Nashville—“a blue dot in the red sea of Tennessee”—she writes perceptively of the region where she was born and raised (in Alabama), educated (in South Carolina), and settled. “All I can do,” she writes, “is try to make it clear that there is far more to this intricate region than many people understand.” Of the nearly 60 essays she has gathered in what she calls a “patchwork quilt” collection, some are journalistic, some polemical, and some frankly personal: her son’s marriage during the pandemic, for one, and a long-deferred visit to Graceland. In many, Renkl vividly evokes the lush natural beauty of the rivers, old-growth forests, “red-dirt pineywoods,” marshes, and coastal plains that she deeply loves. As she shows, that land is in peril. The Tennessee River is polluted with microplastics; habitat destruction threatens monarch butterflies; climate change alters the trajectory of migratory birds. Renkl reports on efforts to address these and other problems that beset the region, including opioid addiction, gun violence, and racism. In Tennessee, she writes, tactics to suppress votes include confiscating driver’s licenses, impeding mail-in ballots, and “disqualifying voter registration applications for specious reasons.” Later, she notes that “Election Law Journal ranked Tennessee forty-eighth in ease of voting” (ahead of Virginia and Mississippi). Nevertheless, Renkl finds hope for change. “I know that Southern hospitality is a real thing, and that it isn’t race contingent,” she writes. “I know how very many people here are fighting to make life safer and more equitable for everyone, even for those who keep voting to make life less safe and less fair for everyone else.”

A wide-ranging look at the realities of the South.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-57131-184-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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

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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. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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