A welcome, well-considered contribution to ecological thought.

HOW TO BE ANIMAL

A NEW HISTORY OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN

A searching examination of our intellectual divorce from the natural world.

Humans, wrote scholar George Kateb, are “the only animal species that is not only animal, the only species that is partly not natural.” Challenger, a British environmental philosopher, takes the idea and runs with it, noting that we are now the world’s dominant animal species, but one that dismisses its animal-ness and regards its human status “as if it is a magical boundary.” Yet recognition of our roots in nature is essential to a healthful relationship with a world that we have treated poorly for most of our history. Much as we might wish to separate ourselves, writes the author, there are definite aspects of animal behavior at work among our kind. “That we give each other love and support is a condition not of our rationalising,” she writes, “but of our compulsions as animals.” Challenger’s book is full of asides that beg for development—her observation, for instance, that “culture’s achievement is to store information outside the body” and that, whereas ants, as ubiquitous as humans, have diversified into more than 14,000 species, our species has speciated through cultural means—but she is convincing in her argument that we suffer from our divorce from nature. “Many of the tensions we experience derive from the dissonance inherent in being a predator with a rich moral faculty,” she observes, wanton killers of nearly every other being on the planet while knowing that we are doing wrong. Challenger proposes ways to retool our thinking, including recognizing the emerging fact that animals possess consciousness (whales dream, wolves carry mental maps in their heads, and so forth) and acknowledging that human consciousness is just one aspect of “a spectacle of richness before us all the while.” Throughout the book, the author invites us to accept our animal nature and the responsibility toward the world that comes with it.

A welcome, well-considered contribution to ecological thought.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313435-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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