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Host of Memories

TALES OF INEVITABLE HAPPENSTANCE

Lively, evocative autobiographical essays.

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Focusing Proust-like on the objects that embody memories, Lighte (Pieces of China, 2009) hosts a tour of his life, from an American Jewish upbringing to a career in China and London.

Lighte, a longtime Sinophile and J.P. Morgan banker, exploits both meanings of the title by taking on the role of solicitous tour guide—“As a hospitable host in this room, I will give a guided tour of its interior”—while curating his impressively detailed memories like precious artifacts. Lighte grew up in Florida but, after his parents’ divorce, moved with his mother to New York City. It was a family of feuds and sudden deaths, and his mother suffered periodic depressions. By contrast, Lighte was a clownish child who told off-color jokes and played the recorder with his nose. He was an aimless student until he took a college elective on the Far East, hoping for an education on the Vietnam War. This one happenstance determined much of his future: studying Chinese in Taiwan, teaching English in Tokyo, working in Beijing, connecting with his husband over A Night at the Chinese Opera, and adopting two Chinese daughters. In brief vignettes, some almost Proustian in their evocation of sense memories, Lighte remembers people and places that hold significance for him. For instance, in “The Gardenia Bush” and “The Lilac Quest,” a flower’s scent takes him back to the past. A whiff of gardenia perfume in China, and he’s in a friend’s Miami Beach yard, while the smell of lilacs reminds him of the desperate hunt for a floral gift for Aunt Marcy’s surprise party. Other objects are nearly as totemic—red plates purchased for Uncle David’s shiva, a last-minute passport obtained before a QE2 voyage with his father, or the store-bought cookies he took to AIDS patients in memory of a departed friend. His meetings with Pearl Buck and Nigel Nicolson are highlights and reinforce the subtitle’s delight in historical serendipity. Meanwhile, “Seder in Kensington” is the best example of Lighte bringing disparate elements of his life together.

Lively, evocative autobiographical essays.

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0991252978

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Acausal Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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