Whether you’re a parent or simply thinking about life choices, there’s both melancholy and wisdom to be found here.

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A BETTER MAN

A (MOSTLY SERIOUS) LETTER TO MY SON

A multitalented actor and comedian digs deep to write a letter to his son about becoming a man.

Black, who got his start with the cult classic The State, is a performer with many facets. Onstage, he displays a dryly sarcastic sense of humor, and at the same time, he has been able to fully engage his goofy side in projects like Wet Hot American Summer. In his latest work of autobiography, following You’re Not Doing It Right, Black drops the act in order to deliver heartfelt lessons for his college-bound son. Opening with the Sandy Hook mass shooting, which occurred blocks from his son’s school, the author addresses his fears, hopes, and missteps in raising his children. The shooting, he writes, “felt like a tornado touching down, mindless and cruel. But also predictable. Infuriatingly predictable….In America…mass shootings are as common as sunsets.” Whether examining violence, sex, relationships, or compassion, Black lays out his thoughts and feelings with few defenses up and a comic lightness that doesn’t belie the book’s rather heavy truths. Though not as analytical as Peggy Ornstein’s incisive analyses of the sex lives of young people (although she shows up here), the narrative offers thoughtful ruminations on masculinity in the modern age. It’s also refreshing to read a memoir that doesn’t preach its messages from an author who honestly admits his imperfections. “The ideas I’m giving to you now are the best I can do now,” Black writes. “I hope you’ll tell me where you think I’ve fallen short. I hope you’ll remind me to stay open and available and receptive to new ideas. Maybe the last job of parenting is surrendering the lead and letting our kids guide us forward. We’re going to need the help.”

Whether you’re a parent or simply thinking about life choices, there’s both melancholy and wisdom to be found here.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-911-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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

OPEN BOOK

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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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