A magisterial, multidisciplinary study of Faulkner that shakes the dust off his canonization.



An exploration of the South’s greatest novelist and his fiction’s complicated relationship to the Civil War.

Though William Faulkner’s legacy is as an author obsessed with the interplay of the South’s shameful past and haunted present, shaped by slavery and the Civil War, he didn’t write much about the war as such. Aside from a handful of scenes that evoked moments like Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, he tended to write about its prehistory and aftereffects. That approach, argues Gorra, a longtime American literature scholar, is a central strength of Faulkner’s fiction. By addressing violence and slavery obliquely, he blurs incidents in ways that allow them to stretch across time. (The “saddest words” of the book's title are “was” and “again," terms that spotlight the inescapability of violence and racism that serve as the war’s grim legacy.) Gorra’s shifts among biography, Civil War history, and literary analysis can make readers feel whipsawed, but they’re always engaging and purposeful. The author takes a close look at the history and literary texts of Faulkner’s time to show how slavery’s role in the war was soft-pedaled, explaining his sometimes embarrassingly racist pronouncements about his native Mississippi. But Faulkner’s literary mind was more open and nuanced. He “couldn’t keep from remembering what other people wanted to forget,” Gorra writes, arguing that signature works like The Sound and The Fury, Light in August, and (especially) Absalom, Absalom! encompass the private fears of white Southerners about mixed-race relationships and Southern honor. Much as Malcolm Cowley’s Portable Faulkner (1946) demystified the complexities of Yoknapatawpha County for Americans still willing to ignore Jim Crow, this book looks at Faulkner in an era in which Confederate statues are at long last getting pulled down. Faulkner had his flaws, Gorra writes, but he “gets the big things right.”

A magisterial, multidisciplinary study of Faulkner that shakes the dust off his canonization.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63149-170-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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

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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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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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