“In backpacks across America, Algren still lives.”

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ALGREN

A LIFE

Since it’s been 25 years since the only comprehensive biography of Nelson Algren (1909-1981), this discerning book is welcome.

Wisniewski, a longtime Chicago reporter, knows Algren’s home turf well. As a teenager, he was already “on the outside,” enamored with the South Side’s “neighborhood pool sharks, gamblers, bootleggers, and sandlot baseball stars.” Although a poor student in high school, he graduated from college in 1931 with a degree in journalism. Next came hitching and riding boxcars across Depression-era America, meeting the down and out and acquiring a taste for gambling that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Algren wasn’t a born writer, but with hard work and great effort, he became one. His good friend Kurt Vonnegut said he was “enchanted by the hopeless, could not take his eyes off them.” The sale of an early story about robbery and murder to a magazine for $25 helped him secure a contract for his first novel. The New York Sun described his leftist, proletarian Somebody in Boots as a novel that “does not shrink from the harsh facts of violence, rape and human wretchedness.” The Works Progress Administration provided some much-needed income after his marriage in 1938, and he flirted with communism. Richard Wright helped him find a home for his next novel, Never Come Morning, which Hemingway called “good stuff.” Back home after a stint in the Army, Nelson started a lengthy, romantic relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. Wisniewski calls it “ridiculous, exotic, corny, impossible…and amazing.” They inspired each other. Nelson’s The Man with the Golden Arm, about drug addiction, was a “hit,” and Otto Preminger’s popular film version came out in 1955 (for which Algren was paid little). A Walk on the Wild Side, which he felt was his best book, came out a year later. When the impoverished author died in 1981, all his work was out of print. It’s good to have the irascible, bohemian chronicler of the streets back via this top-notch biography.

“In backpacks across America, Algren still lives.”

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61373-532-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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