A pointed family memoir from a writer keenly attuned to and reverent of genius.

A HOUSE IN ST JOHN'S WOOD

IN SEARCH OF MY PARENTS

A frank memoir of Spender’s problematic poet father and his emotionally remote pianist mother.

Growing up among a generation of brilliant, creative British men who had to overcome enormous obstacles to their embrace of homosexuality left poet Stephen Spender’s only son, sculptor and writer Matthew, with both a deep reverence for the creative act and a nose for self-deception. When his mother, Natasha Litvin, died in 2010 at the house in St. John’s Wood where she had lived for nearly 70 years, the author recognized that he felt angrily ambivalent about his mother, who accused him of not properly guarding the rather romantic legacy of his father, who died in 1995. In his tremendously honest memoir, Spender explores his mother’s absurd attempts to keep up appearances whiles her husband’s work was devoted to truth, both in word and in politics, into which he plunged with his magazine Encounter. Spender traces the early life and career of his father and his important friendships with W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, who all influenced each other. Dallying with communism briefly and between romances with men and an early marriage, the poet married the classically trained Natasha in 1941. A pianist “who lived on her nerves," according to her son, she was continually devastated by her husband’s dalliances with men, which began to dawn on the son when he read his father’s autobiography. Gaps and silences pervaded the household, especially when his mother took off to care for Raymond Chandler in Palm Springs and his father took up with a young Reynolds Price. In the latter part of this touching memoir, the author looks at his father’s political naiveté over the CIA’s bankrolling of Encounter and his own youthful romance with Maro Gorky, whose elusive father would become the subject of his first book, From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky (1999).

A pointed family memoir from a writer keenly attuned to and reverent of genius.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-26986-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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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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