Lebrecht takes on a fascinating topic, but his attempt results in a disorienting formal hodgepodge.

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WHY MAHLER?

HOW ONE MAN AND TEN SYMPHONIES CHANGED OUR WORLD

Music critic Lebrecht (The Life and Death of Classical Music: Featuring the 100 Best and 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made, 2007, etc.) pens an extended love letter to the composer whose majestic symphonies and brooding vocal works have become almost sacrosanct in the contemporary concert hall.

This book will appeal to Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) enthusiasts who share the author’s tendency toward unabashed hyperbole—read no further than the subtitle. Lebrecht’s penchant for exaggerating the role played by the classical music tradition in Western culture permeates this latest work, as it has throughout much of his previous writing. Yet the author’s premise is worthy of consideration: How do we account for the rise in Mahler’s popularity since Leonard Bernstein almost singlehandedly initiated a Mahler Renaissance in the 1960s? Though Lebrecht doesn’t provide a definitive answer, he does offer an ample introduction to the composer. As part biography, part gonzo journalism and part confessional, the book seems unnecessarily confusing. The most compelling sections, which chronologically trace Mahler’s biography, are tainted by Lebrecht’s decision to write in the present tense. Likewise, many of the sections within the biographical portion of the book jump to tenuously related anecdotes from the present just as the narrative settles into a more comfortable rhythm. Lebrecht writes with appealing detail, however, filling in the crevices of his subject's life with adages and impressions about Mahler conveyed through the letters and reminiscences of those who knew him. Consequently, the author richly animates Mahler as the moody, self-obsessive and tragic figure he seems to have been. The book also includes interviews with surviving family members and accounts of the author’s pilgrimages to important Mahler sites.

Lebrecht takes on a fascinating topic, but his attempt results in a disorienting formal hodgepodge.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-375-42381-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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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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