A nuanced portrait of a writer and reader.

AUSTEN YEARS

A MEMOIR IN FIVE NOVELS

How Jane Austen’s novels can guide readers through joy and grief.

“Criticism and memoir have always been near neighbors,” writes essayist and biographer Cohen (Creative Writing/Univ. of Chicago; Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, 2013, etc.); “the gift of a pronounced personal point of view leads to deeper readings, and to new ones.” In a thoughtful meditation on the interweaving of literature and life, Cohen recounts her reading during years when her life altered dramatically: Her father died, she married, and her two children were born. Those profound experiences made her vibrantly alert to Austen’s themes: “families and friendships and changing history, how we go back over what we have lived, and whether we can hand it on.” Although Austen never married or had children, she “did not forget that her books would be read in rooms where babies had just been born, and where parents had breathed their last.” Rooms, and the objects within them, reverberated with memories and life. Cohen brings to her analysis a thorough familiarity not only with Austen’s unforgettable characters, but also with her critics and biographers, including the “restrained but insightful” memoir written by Austen’s nephew. These works help her to contextualize the novels, which she analyzes with astute sensitivity. Austen’s characters, in fact, emerge more vividly than many individuals from Cohen’s own life. Except for her father, a kind, imaginative man “full of wit” and generosity, others remain shadowy: her mother, a theater director and teacher; Cohen’s husband—their convoluted 15-year courtship, a friend remarked, seemed “very Jane Austen”; her sister, son, and daughter. Cohen’s father was a professor whose research focused on organizations “and the ways people work and play together.” The author remembers him laughing “with delight and with surprise,” and she portrays the family’s home as “a place of tenderness”—though it was not without mysteries (her father’s sudden decision to give all their books away, for example) that, along with treasured memories, came to shape her reading.

A nuanced portrait of a writer and reader.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-10703-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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UNTAMED

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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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