With vibrant portraits of Chaucer’s contemporaries—including the imperious John of Gaunt and the shifty London mayor...

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CHAUCER'S TALE

1386 AND THE ROAD TO CANTERBURY

Strohm (Humanities, Emeritus/Columbia Univ.; Conscience: A Very Short Introduction, 2011, etc.) brings his authority as a medievalist to this lively biography, focused on Geoffrey Chaucer’s radical change of fortunes in 1386.

At age 43, Chaucer lost his patronage job as controller of customs at the Wool Wharf, was evicted from his London apartment, and was living apart from his wife and mostly estranged from his children. In short, writes Strohm, “he suddenly found himself without a patron, without a faction, without a dwelling, without a job, and—perhaps most seriously—without a city.” In these straits, however, he dedicated himself to the vocation of writing. Strohm notes that Chaucer had completed more than half of his literary works before 1386 but not The Canterbury Tales. Although he devoted time to his craft while he served in various court positions for more than 20 years, he did not yet consider himself a poet but instead “wrote as a matter of personal choice and not for acclaim or reward,” addressing his works to an audience comprised of close friends. That circle of friends, however, fell away with his ouster from London. Strohm argues that the format of The Canterbury Tales directly responded to this lack of audience with a bold artistic strategy: “[T]he vivid portrait gallery of Canterbury Pilgrims” became both tellers of tales and listeners, “a body of ambitiously mixed participants suitable for a collection of tales unprecedented in their variety and scope.” With little historical evidence of Chaucer’s personal life, Strohm judiciously mines official documents and Chaucer’s literary works to draw inferences about his private activities and associations and to reveal his attitudes about love, loyalty, politics and fame. He argues that Chaucer “undoubtedly possessed a competitive edge” over English poets and, intriguingly, his near contemporary Boccaccio.

With vibrant portraits of Chaucer’s contemporaries—including the imperious John of Gaunt and the shifty London mayor Nicholas Brembre—Strohm’s focus on one year in Chaucer’s life offers an expansive view of medieval England.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0670026432

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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