An effective illumination of the profound “difference between right thought and right action.”

PROCESSED MEATS

ESSAYS ON FOOD, FLESH, AND NAVIGATING DISASTER

A scattershot yet engaging essay collection about a host of personal and global concerns.

Walker takes on a variety of topics, including the specter of the apocalypse (real or imagined) in the time of the 2020 pandemic, but the primary themes are motherhood, climate change, home, and, above all, our relationship with food. Though the earliest essays date back to the eve of the year 2000, they seldom feel dated. The author has many notable achievements, not least frequent appearances of her work in the Best American Essays series, but the narrative style may not appeal to all readers. Walker caroms from subject to subject—often tenuously connected—only to double back, in one case moving from the history of the Latter-day Saints migration to her withered tomato plants to human infertility in the space of two sentences. While these interjections and digressions are sometimes effective, it’s distracting when it becomes the main structural motif of many pieces. When Walker settles in, she produces observations as beautifully written as they are thoughtful. One of her specialties is pithy remarks, and some of her more intriguing phrasing causes us to view certain topics from unique angles. “Fried chicken,” she writes, “is a testament to the beauty of the disarticulated chicken. Every piece a handhold. Every piece its own integrity. The coating wraps a thigh like snow, a breast like a scarf, a leg like a stocking to protect it from the cruel world of hot oil.” On matters ecological, Walker’s book is allied with such recent works as Sandra Goldmark’s Fixation, noting that catchphrases and words from the counterculture have entered the mainstream lexicon. Some, alas, have been commodified. Meanwhile, the pandemic has caused many middle-class families to experience elements of real poverty. This, in turn, has revealed what the author believes are “fundamental flaws” of a capitalistic society. Yet as a consumer, she also feels a measure of guilt for her own inconsistencies of judgment and desire.

An effective illumination of the profound “difference between right thought and right action.”

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948814-34-8

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Torrey House Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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