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

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A WORLD OUT OF REACH

DISPATCHES FROM LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN

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: N/A

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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