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INTERVENTIONS 2020

For readers with an interest in Francocentric views of current events.

Editorials, occasional pieces, and interviews by and with the prickly French writer.

“The logical consequences of individualism are murder and unhappiness,” Houellebecq tells an interlocutor, going on to spin out a soliloquy that takes in quantum physics, the abandonment of psychoanalysis, the molecular basis of consciousness, and the ecological disasters we’re careening toward. The author’s sententious writings are of a piece, if often more personal: He doesn’t like going to parties, for instance, and though they can be made more tolerable with a “nice dose of hallucinogenic plants,” the question still stands, “What the hell am I doing with these jerks?” Houellebecq has been deemed a reactionary, but the political stance here is a sort of Cartesian socialism with a strong dash of religion—religion not necessarily for any reason other than that it “offers the feeling of being connected to the world,” and not just any old religion, especially not Islam. It’s to that faith that Houellebecq cheerfully admits a profound hostility, and one of his best-known literary works is his 2015 novel, Submission, which depicts a France under Islamist domination thanks to colluding politicians. The author defends the right to Islamophobia, which would seem less likely to get a person cancelled in France than in the U.S., but he’s not afraid of adding fuel to that particular fire. He’s also one of the few European intellectuals to openly praise Donald Trump, though for subtle reasons: “Unlike liberals (as fanatical as Communists, in their own way), President Trump does not see free global trade as the alpha and omega of human progress.” Moreover, he adds, Trump’s weakening of ties to NATO and his isolationism leave the world stage open for France to reassert its influence. Houellebecq closes with a suitably slippery view of the Covid-19 pandemic, featuring a dour summation: “We won’t wake up, after lockdown, in a new world; it will be the same world, but a bit worse.”

For readers with an interest in Francocentric views of current events.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5095-4995-5

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Polity

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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THE BACKYARD BIRD CHRONICLES

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

A charming bird journey with the bestselling author.

In his introduction to Tan’s “nature journal,” David Allen Sibley, the acclaimed ornithologist, nails the spirit of this book: a “collection of delightfully quirky, thoughtful, and personal observations of birds in sketches and words.” For years, Tan has looked out on her California backyard “paradise”—oaks, periwinkle vines, birch, Japanese maple, fuchsia shrubs—observing more than 60 species of birds, and she fashions her findings into delightful and approachable journal excerpts, accompanied by her gorgeous color sketches. As the entries—“a record of my life”—move along, the author becomes more adept at identifying and capturing them with words and pencils. Her first entry is September 16, 2017: Shortly after putting up hummingbird feeders, one of the tiny, delicate creatures landed on her hand and fed. “We have a relationship,” she writes. “I am in love.” By August 2018, her backyard “has become a menagerie of fledglings…all learning to fly.” Day by day, she has continued to learn more about the birds, their activities, and how she should relate to them; she also admits mistakes when they occur. In December 2018, she was excited to observe a Townsend’s Warbler—“Omigod! It’s looking at me. Displeased expression.” Battling pesky squirrels, Tan deployed Hot Pepper Suet to keep them away, and she deterred crows by hanging a fake one upside down. The author also declared war on outdoor cats when she learned they kill more than 1 billion birds per year. In May 2019, she notes that she spends $250 per month on beetle larvae. In June 2019, she confesses “spending more hours a day staring at birds than writing. How can I not?” Her last entry, on December 15, 2022, celebrates when an eating bird pauses, “looks and acknowledges I am there.”

An ebullient nature lover’s paean to birds.

Pub Date: April 23, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536131

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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

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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. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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