An unexpectedly entertaining scholarly warning about fascism’s spread through imagery.

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ART, FASCISM, AND THE RIGHT TO RESIST

A lively investigation of the numerous connections among fascism, imagery, media, and politics.

Books about fascism are rarely unpredictable, and social science nonfiction is rarely a wild thrill ride. But when Nathan applies the style and imagination he demonstrated in his debut novel, Some Hell (2018), that’s what we get. Though the author is upfront about his lack of expertise with the mechanics of fascism and photographs, his originality of thought drives this impressive nonfiction debut. He leans on Susan Sontag and Bertrand Russell to make some points early on, but it’s the way he weaves together the deaths of Matthew Shepard, the Columbine High School massacre, and 9/11 with the rise of Donald Trump and Survivor that makes readers wonder what twist is coming next. “If Marilyn Manson played America’s antichrist, Trump seems to be it—the American monster par excellence,” Nathan writes. Not all his pronouncements hold up intellectually, as he sometimes exaggerates to make a convenient point—e.g., “the American fascist aesthetic is one of noise and merchandise…the aesthetic of resistance is no different—equally noisy and commodified, right down to the T-shirts, the slogans, and stupid tweets.” Nonetheless, readers will be fascinated as the author explains the importance of expressing ourselves visually through the origin of memes, the language of GIFs, and how it all fits together with the work of Homer and the power of representation. Nathan delivers deep thinking and clever turns of phrase in equally abundant amounts, making his history lesson and philosophical discussion a page-turning good time. Of course, the shadow of Trump looms large: “While the most visible aspect of this fascism is, without a doubt, an omnipresent, autocratic bigot whose every photograph and tweet and facial gesture is consumed and interpreted in myriad ways—a kind of image-meth scarcely anyone can stop using—to call Donald Trump this fascism’s alpha and omega is to give him too much credit.”

An unexpectedly entertaining scholarly warning about fascism’s spread through imagery.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-453-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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