A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time.



Lyrical reflections on the relentless cycle of birth and death by Nashville-based New York Times contributing opinion writer Renkl.

In this unusual and poignant memoir, the author, editor of the online literary journal Chapter 16, alternates in short chapters between her current life as a happily married mother of grown children living in Nashville, Tennessee, and her years growing up in rural Alabama surrounded by a loving extended family. Her narrative metaphor becomes the miraculous order of nature, especially the lives of wild birds she observes from her home office as they devote their brief lives to making nests for and feeding the young only to be, in many cases, fodder for larger prey that must nourish their own fledglings. Renkl’s mother, Olivia, was born in lower Alabama in 1931; married a Catholic man—“my grandfather had never laid eyes on a Catholic before he met his future son-in-law”—and gave birth to the author in 1961. Renkl was so anticipated and adored by the family that in pictures, “they are looking at me as if I were the sun, as if they had been cold every day of their lives until now.” As a child, the author remembers her mother often despondent, stricken by postpartum depression. The family moved to Birmingham in 1968, during the turbulent civil rights era, yet Renkl was sheltered from the greater troubles within the bosom of her family. In 1984, the author attempted a semester of graduate school in Philadelphia, but she was so traumatized by the noise and dislocation that she quickly returned to the South and attended school in South Carolina. Renkl describes the deaths of many of her elders (and her sometimes-onerous role as their late-life caretaker), but the strength of her narrative is in the descriptions of nature in all its glory and cruelty; she vividly captures “the splendor of decay.” Interspersed with the chapters are appealing nature illustrations by the author’s brother.

A series of redolent snapshots and memories that seem to halt time.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-57131-378-2

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...


The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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