OF MULE AND MAN

The actor best known for his portrayal of B.J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H demonstrates that book tours are every bit as tedious as imagined.

In May 2008, Farrell (Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist, 2007) rented a Prius (nicknamed “Mule”) and looped across the United States on a 25-city book tour. Reading about his cross-country trip is like thumbing through a stranger’s travel diary—it’s chock full of meandering, superficial observations that ultimately don’t add up to much. Even though each event was co-sponsored by individuals or groups dedicated to social justice, Farrell rarely reflects on the progressive nature of his tour—how it was conceived, what he hoped to accomplish, how it could serve as a model for other authors. Rather than weaving his involvement with these organizations into the narrative, the author includes dry summaries of their missions in boxed-off spaces. Moreover, he often undercuts his stance as an activist with his condescending tone. He sneers at right-wing radio hosts and their audiences (“I truly worry about the people who listen to this crap all the time”) and resorts to ad hominem attacks against former President Bush, referring to him as “President Stupid” and a “the pathetic, smirking narcissist who occupies our White House.” The larger problem, however, is that Farrell too often glosses over the unique aspects of his tour. In New Orleans, he met with Sister Helen Prejean, a renowned opponent of the death penalty, and instead of offering vivid scenes or telling anecdotes, he simply notes that they had a “great dinner and wonderful conversation.” In contrast, Farrell dedicates nearly an entire chapter to getting an oil change at a Firestone dealer in New York City. Despite his forced attempts at whimsy—largely through unconvincing conversations with Mule—what his chronicles inadvertently portray is the mundane, repetitive nature of the modern book tour, where authors skip from city to city with little time to explore individual communities or interact with readers.

Slapdash and inessential.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-933354-75-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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