Amazingly dull for such a relatively short text concerning a group of brilliant artists during a lively cultural period.

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ANTHONY POWELL

A LIFE

Dreary biography of the writer best known for his 12-novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time.

Indeed, British journalist Barber’s main interest here seems to be in telling readers exactly which real-life people inspired the series’ fictional characters. This could be interesting, since Powell (1905–2000) numbered among his acquaintances such leading literary figures as Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Cyril Connolly. But Barber’s approach is numbingly literal (an interminable discussion of which Oxford don was the basis for the manipulative Professor Sillery, for example), and he does little to convey the distinctive qualities of Powell’s work. The author’s other primary concern, making sure readers realize that he personally met many of these distinguished folk, similarly provides scant insight and plenty of annoyance; not many biographers are so eager to document contact with their subject that they would quote a journal entry in which Powell, commenting on being interviewed by Barber, describes him as “an uninspiring figure, to say the least.” Readers willing to wade through such tangential material can glean a few facts about Powell’s privileged background (Eton, Oxford), his party-going days as a Bright Young Thing in the 1920s, the mildly conservative and largely apolitical stance that put him at odds with London’s left-wing literary climate of the ’30s, his military service during WWII, etc. They will learn almost nothing about the artistic convictions or intentions that prompted A Dance to the Music of Time; Barber doesn’t even bother to properly explain that the title comes from a painting by Poussin, merely tossing off a reference that assumes his readers already know all about it. His habit of referring to fictional characters as though they were real people will be equally irritating to those who picked this up assuming they might find it interesting even if they were not familiar with every word Powell wrote.

Amazingly dull for such a relatively short text concerning a group of brilliant artists during a lively cultural period.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2004

ISBN: 1-58567-618-7

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Duckworth/Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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