An inspirational, sharp, and disarmingly humorous account about taekwondo and mental health.

KICKING AND SCREAMING

A MEMOIR OF MADNESS AND MARTIAL ARTS

An organizational development consultant battling mental illness finds hope in martial arts training in this debut memoir.

“To be frank: I’m crazy,” declares Gibson in her prologue, “and my biggest challenges have stemmed from what being crazy makes me do.” Raised in Snyder, Texas, the author describes being “turned inward” as a child, experiencing anxiety that gave way to depression. As a teen, she displayed behavior that she now recognizes had the markings of bipolar disorder, but she only began contemplating suicide after starting college. Reluctant to receive counseling, Gibson figured that she could handle her problems on her own. A successful and fiercely independent “career girl,” she only truly reached out at the age of 31, when a romantic hiccup led to an “epic” breakdown. Alongside finding a therapist, Gibson reconnected with the taekwondo grandmaster who oversaw the dojang where she trained as a child. The author recounts her progression to becoming a black belt in a journey that is punctuated by injury and romantic instability. But through taekwondo, Gibson gained the self-understanding to “kick ass” in other parts of her life. The subject matter of this memoir is understandably dark, with the author candidly describing her lowest moments, such as “drinking whiskey for dinner and sobbing incoherently into the phone” to her “worried parents.” Yet this is countered by a stylistic approach that is refreshingly buoyant and self-aware: “In case anyone thinks the white belt months were a 1980s movie montage of me doing push-ups and high kicks and high-fiving other students set to cheesy inspirational music, think again.” Naturally humorous, Gibson is also capable of elegant, emotionally communicative prose: “The lyrical beauty of the movement, the expressive focus, and the mind-body connection of taekwondo seeped into the marrow of my bones.” Some readers may not take to the author’s casual narrative style. At one point, she instructs them unnecessarily to “flip back to Chapter One if you don’t remember,” but this adds to the affability of her writing. Gibson’s sharp-witted, tenacious personality radiates throughout this spirited book, and her determination should prove contagious, spurring readers to discover a pathway through which they can combat mental illness and discover their true selves.

An inspirational, sharp, and disarmingly humorous account about taekwondo and mental health.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64742-028-4

Page Count: 280

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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

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