Like his poetry, Levine’s essays are generous, honest, and real.



One of our finest poets recalls a life well lived in poetry.

A former American Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, Levine (News of the World, 2009, etc.) was in the process of finishing this sparkling collection of essays and lectures when he died (1928-2015). His good friend and fellow poet Edward Hirsch helped to complete the project. In the title piece, which Hirsch calls “one of the great textured descriptions of a writer finding his vocation,” Levine describes in loving detail discovering a group of fellow aspiring poets at Detroit’s Wayne University, where he read and wrote poetry with a small group of enthusiastic, like-minded undergraduates. “Where would I have been without all of them”—the poets he discovered and the friends “who shared with me their faith in the power of the perfect words.” In a piece on the influence his “master,” Williams Carlos Williams, had on his early career, Levine acknowledges that Williams’ poems, written in the “spoken language of my country,” turned him away from his “English masters toward the effort to create a poetry original and audacious enough to be American.” Great poets don’t always make great teachers. Levine attended the University of Iowa in the fall of 1953 and took Robert Lowell’s class. Lowell taught “badly,” and students started dropping out. John Berryman, on the other hand, captivated the students: “Never again would I encounter so great a poem [by Dylan Thomas] so perfectly presented.” The book is full of scintillating remembrances of fellow poets. Berryman could be “both brilliant and candid,” but Thom Gunn had “an ‘aura,’ a sort of inner beauty that was manifest in all of his actions.” Levine also speaks lovingly of his “mentor and friend” George Hitchcock and his seminal literary magazine, kayak,” and his piece on little-known Roberta Spear, who died young, will have readers rushing to her work.

Like his poetry, Levine’s essays are generous, honest, and real.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-451-49327-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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