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Refreshing, finely turned gems of wit and wisdom from an author who has asked his family to bury him with a “decent library.”

A collection of literary tapas.

Novelist and short story writer Orner (Creative Writing/San Francisco State Univ.; Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, 2013, etc.) combines short, reflective essays about literature with personal memories. The pieces (some previously published) are literary hybrids, and the book becomes a series of “unlearned meditations that stumbles into memoir.” The big names (Kafka, Chekhov, Melville, Cheever, Bellow, etc.) are well-represented, but so too are those outside of the canon—e.g., Lyonel Trouillot, Álvaro Mutis, Bohumil Hrabal and his “lightning strike of a novel,” Too Loud a Solitude. In the first piece, ostensibly about how Orner likes to read, reflect, look around, and just listen at San Francisco’s General Hospital’s cafeteria, the author transitions to Chekhov’s “tender and sorrowful” story “The Bishop,” which he admires for how the author (a doctor) lovingly employs details. He ends thinking about his dead grandmother. In a cabin in Bolinas, California, Orner thinks about his dead father and reads Breece D’J Pancake’s story “First Day of Winter,” which “gets [him] every time. The way a story about characters, nonexistent people, pushes us back to our own.” Orner confesses that John Edgar Wideman’s story “Welcome” is the “saddest story” he has ever read “by a wide margin.” Again, thinking about his father, he asks, what is the best Father’s Day novel? “Hands down The Brothers Karamazov.” But Bernard Malamud’s “My Son the Murderer” is the best story. While it takes Dostoevsky 700 pages “to get to the bottom of fathers and sons,” Malamud “can name that tune in under 8.” At 22, he accidentally fell out of a canoe but saved the book he was reading—the indelible and “generous” To the Lighthouse—and then anxiously waited for it to dry in the sun so he could finish it. Book lovers will devour these genuine, personal tales about literature and reading.

Refreshing, finely turned gems of wit and wisdom from an author who has asked his family to bury him with a “decent library.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936787-25-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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

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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

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