This Old House for the NPR set.

SUGARHOUSE

TURNING THE NEIGHBORHOOD CRACK HOUSE INTO OUR HOME SWEET HOME

A doctoral candidate takes on a massive project of home renovation.

In explaining how he and his wife became determined to purchase a house while he was studying for his degree in writing at the University of Utah, rather than renting like most graduate students, Batt writes, “To buy a house—or at least to look in earnest for one—is to admit to yourself that you think you’re ready…It was time to grow up and settle down.” The author was propelled by a sense that adulthood had “coldcocked” them: “everyone but us was dying, getting divorced, or having a kid.” This in turn compelled Batt to recklessly purchase a Fisbo, a “for sale by owner” house with serious long-term maintenance issues—and a largely unexplored reputation as a one-time “crack house.” The author deferred to the earnest eccentricity of the owner (Batt’s character sketches are deft but briefly drawn), who assured him that the house was an undervalued bargain but left Batt the legacy of years of jury-rigged repairs. Much of the book follows Batt as he attempts to renovate the house on a low budget, haplessly doing much of the work himself, and also turning to bemused salt-of-the-earth Utah men for assistance in such tasks as building a cement kitchen counter. A major theme, unsurprisingly, is that of masculinity: Batt’s home-improvement misadventures allow consideration of how hard it is for young men today (particularly intellectual types) to measure up to absent fathers. The embodiment of this idea is Batt’s grandfather, a doctor turned cantankerous, lovelorn old man, whose deterioration provides the main element of the back story of the author’s complicated family life. In the conclusion, Batt discusses his selling of the house and moving on to an academic posting. The relatable author writes clearly, but the twin story engines of personal angst and home-repair strife don’t really mesh, resulting in a memoir that feels inessential and highly specific rather than potentially universal.

This Old House for the NPR set.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-63453-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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