A penetrating, blazing look at people whom many of us have forgotten—but who are the nation’s truly essential workers.

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THE GOOD HAND

A MEMOIR OF WORK, BROTHERHOOD, AND TRANSFORMATION IN AN AMERICAN BOOMTOWN

A folk singer and playwright goes to the oil fields and returns with a remarkable book.

This is the book that Hillbilly Elegy should have been: a white-hot, fiercely argued case for rural working people in the face of their economically brutal lives. In 2013, unmoored in New York City, Smith traveled to the epicenter of the Bakken shale oil boom, arriving with about $5,000 to his name, hoping for much more. Williston, North Dakota, he writes, “was a tool, and we were using it to extract money from the oil companies the same way those companies were using us to extract oil from the earth.” The “we” in question are lean, hungry men from a variety of backgrounds, many spoiling for a barroom brawl. Whatever their ethnicity, they work in dangerous conditions, boiling under the summer sun and freezing in the Arctic-vortex winter. Life in Williston is no less fraught. As Smith writes, the overall crime rate during his time there was four times the national average, the incidence of rape and assault even higher. The author is no stranger to the bloody grind, having come from a dysfunctional home. In a particularly memorable moment in a book packed with them, he observes that most soldiers come from the rural poor and have suffered poverty and abuse all their lives: “These veterans have PTSD before they experienced combat. They leave home broken and come home more broken.” They come to the oil fields that way, too. Smith, having veered into overdrinking to the point of driving the wrong way down a highway, notes that they, like him, leave the oil fields with about as much money as they arrived with. Smith’s narrative, like Ben Ehrenreich’s Desert Notes, brims with intelligence and foreboding. “The North Dakota boom isn’t the one that we need to worry about,” he writes. “Boomtown Earth is busting.”

A penetrating, blazing look at people whom many of us have forgotten—but who are the nation’s truly essential workers.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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

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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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