A spirited, heartfelt homage to reading.

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A literary critic celebrates books that she has loved.

Pulitzer Prize winner Kakutani, former chief book critic at the New York Times, has been a capacious, eclectic reader since childhood. Aiming to encourage reading and rereading, she presents succinct essays on more than 130 books that she believes “deserve as wide an audience as possible,” ranging from the Odyssey to Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, “an unsparing rumination on identity” published in 2019. In the introduction, Kakutani rehearses predictable assertions about the benefits of reading. Books, she writes, “can transport us back to the past” and “forward to idealized or dystopian futures,” take us to far-off places, and introduce us to beliefs different from our own. They “can surprise and move us, challenge our certainties, and goad us into reexamining our default settings.” The essays themselves are more perceptive, offering fresh, inspired assessments of a wide range of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry: memoir, biography, and history; social, political, environmental, and cultural analysis; nature writing; children’s books (she responds to six Dr. Seuss stories with her own, unfortunate, doggerel), and young adult fiction. Kakutani focuses on many canonical texts, including The Federalist Papers, George Washington’s Farewell Address, Moby-Dick, Frankenstein, Winesburg, Ohio, The Waste Land, The Great Gatsby, and Invisible Man; and on canonical authors, such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, George Orwell, and Toni Morrison. But surprises abound, including four books by and about Muhammad Ali (“a larger-than-life figure: not just an incandescent athlete dancing under the lights, but a man of conscience who spoke truth to power”); Richard Flanagan’s “dazzling, phantasmagorical” Gould’s Book of Fish; Tommy Orange’s “fierce, sad, funny, and transcendent novel” There, There; the Harry Potter books (“one of literature’s ultimate bildungsromans”; two “heart-stopping books” about the war on terror (David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers and Thank You for Your Service); and a sprightly biography of Frank Sinatra.

A spirited, heartfelt homage to reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-57497-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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“A record is so much better when you can believe it.” Dylan is clearly a believer, and he will convince readers to follow.

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THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG

The iconic singer/songwriter reflects on a lifetime of listening to music.

Nostalgia abounds in Bob Dylan’s eclectic and eccentric collection of impressive musical appreciations. Examining 66 songs across numerous genres, going back to Stephen Foster’s “Nelly Was a Lady” (1849), the author offers an extensive hodgepodge of illustrations and photographs alongside rich, image-laden, impressionistic prose. There is no introduction or foreword. Instead, Dylan dives right in with “Detroit City,” Bobby Blare’s 1963 single: “What is it about lapsing into narration in a song that makes you think the singer is suddenly revealing the truth?” Throughout the text, the author is consistently engaging and often provocative in his explorations. Regarding “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, he writes, “The lips of her cunt are a steel trap, and she covers you with cow shit—a real killer-diller and you regard her with suspicion and fear, rightly so. Homely enough to stop a clock, she’s no pussycat.” Deconstructing Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s “Pancho and Lefty,” Dylan describes songwriting as “editing—distilling thought down to essentials.” We can see the author’s mind working, reminiscing, but there’s little autobiography here. Where needed, he tosses in some prodigious music history and biography, and some appreciations read like short stories. Often, Dylan straightforwardly recounts what a specific song is about: “By the time you get to Phoenix it will be morning where she is, and she’ll be just getting out of bed.” Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” is a “remembrance of things past,” and Dion and the Belmonts’ version of the Rodgers and Hart song “Where or When” is about “reincarnation.” Also making appearances are Carl Perkins, Perry Como, The Clash, Roy Orbison, Cher, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead. Bobby Darin and Willie Nelson appear twice.

“A record is so much better when you can believe it.” Dylan is clearly a believer, and he will convince readers to follow.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 9781451648706

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

CINEMA SPECULATION

The acclaimed director displays his talents as a film critic.

Tarantino’s collection of essays about the important movies of his formative years is packed with everything needed for a powerful review: facts about the work, context about the creative decisions, and whether or not it was successful. The Oscar-winning director of classic films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs offers plenty of attitude with his thoughts on movies ranging from Animal House to Bullitt to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Big Chill. Whether you agree with his assessments or not, he provides the original reporting and insights only a veteran director would notice, and his engaging style makes it impossible to leave an essay without learning something. The concepts he smashes together in two sentences about Taxi Driver would take a semester of film theory class to unpack. Taxi Driver isn’t a “paraphrased remake” of The Searchers like Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? is a paraphrased remake of Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby or De Palma’s Dressed To Kill is a paraphrased remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But it’s about as close as you can get to a paraphrased remake without actually being one. Robert De Niro’s taxi driving protagonist Travis Bickle is John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. Like any good critic, Tarantino reveals bits of himself as he discusses the films that are important to him, recalling where he was when he first saw them and what the crowd was like. Perhaps not surprisingly, the author was raised by movie-loving parents who took him along to watch whatever they were watching, even if it included violent or sexual imagery. At the age of 8, he had seen the very adult MASH three times. Suddenly the dark humor of Kill Bill makes much more sense. With this collection, Tarantino offers well-researched love letters to his favorite movies of one of Hollywood’s most ambitious eras.

A top-flight nonfiction debut from a unique artist.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-311258-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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