If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.



The difficult spring of 2020, as chronicled by scholars, poets, essayists, and others in the Yale Review.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the pandemic, this collection, put together from the March, April, and May issues of the Review’s "Pandemic Files," seeks to "encapsulate both the inexpressible grief of our moment and the possibility for change and reflection held within it." Editor O'Rourke assembles the work of 36 authors from a wide range of backgrounds. The contributors write not just about the lockdown, but also medicine and epidemiology, the Black Lives Matter protests, the border wall, the contemporary relevance of Thucydides and Boccaccio's Decameron, and how "modern North American history begins with an infectious disease crisis.” Russell Morse, a New York public defender, movingly documents his vigorous but largely doomed attempts to help "the most vulnerable among us," the incarcerated and the homeless. Among the poets represented are Victoria Chang, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Monica Ferrell, and their emotional firepower is matched by a number of strong personal essays. Briallen Hopper, a creative writing professor who lives in Elmhurst, Queens, "a global COVID-19 epicenter" where "the sirens never stop,” mourns the terrible impact of the virus on her blue-collar neighborhood. Rachel Jamison Webster remembers her aunt, who "arrived in my life exactly when I needed her, when I was afraid I would never escape my conventional upbringing." Is it the right time to read this book? One answer is given by recent Yale graduate Meghana Mysore, quoting Yiyun Li—"Rarely does a story start where we wish it had, or end where we wish it would"—and adding her own pertinent thought: "But somewhere in all the chaos is a story, if we are given time to see it." Other contributors include Katie Kitamura, John Fabian Witt, Nell Freudenberger, Randi Hutter Epstein, and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

If only our response to the pandemic on other fronts could have been as speedy and potent as this literary one.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25735-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist


A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?