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 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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



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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


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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