From time’s bookshelf, Conroy selects some arresting volumes and some dusty duds better left alone.

The bestselling author offers scattered remembrances and ruminations about favorite books, writers and inspirations.

Conroy (South of Broad, 2009, etc.) begins with what seems like a plan—a more or less chronological journey forward from his early reading days. He follows it for a few chapters before abandoning it, embarking on a narrative about influential individual writers (James Dickey, Thomas Wolfe), favorite books (Gone with the WindLook Homeward, AngelWar and Peace), formative experiences (traveling around with a caustic book rep, living in Paris) and a few free-standing meditations (the penultimate chapter, “Why I Write”). Along the way, he both canonizes and crucifies. Among his saints are his mother, who loved reading and showed her son the lovely life of a bookworm; his high-school English teacher, Gene Norris, who challenged Conroy, excited him about an intellectual life, took him to visit Wolfe’s home and remained a lifelong friend; and an eccentric, nonreading Atlanta bookseller. Among those the author lashes are some notables at a long-ago writers’ conference: William H. Gass, who was vicious in a workshop and had “a grand intellect, but a shoddy heart”; Alice Walker, who signed a book but wouldn’t speak to him; and Adrienne Rich, who repelled all men, Conroy included, from a public reading. No Conroy book would be complete without a few dark visits from his abusive Marine Corps father, “The Great Santini,” who arrives in several chapters, fists flying most brutally. All Conroy’s gifts, excesses, successes, failures and folderol both adorn and diminish his text. He is capable of something pure and perfect (“I read for fire”), something hackneyed (“Once you have read War and Peace, you will never be the same”) and something truly affecting (passages on the death of his beloved high-school English teacher), and the dialogue veers from brisk and natural to patently crafted and self-serving.

From time’s bookshelf, Conroy selects some arresting volumes and some dusty duds better left alone.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-53357-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview