TRASH TALK

THE ONLY BOOK ABOUT DESTROYING YOUR RIVALS THAT ISN’T TOTAL GARBAGE

A treat for students of language, as well as would-be Don Rickles heirs looking to hone their craft.

An entertaining study of the taunts and insults that pervade sports and the larger culture.

Consider the dozens, “a ritualized insult game endemic to Black communities” that is both playful and (sometimes literally) deadly serious, always designed to get inside your opponent’s head. Take it up a few notches, and you have Muhammad Ali, “the veritable godfather of modern trash talk.” Though an ascended master of trash talk, Ali was no pioneer. Kohan, the author of The Arena, traces it a couple of centuries back, locating incivility in American politics as well as sports and popular culture. The author opens with modern professional wrestling and MMA competitions, where bigmouth putdowns are the currency of the realm. He effectively links this nasty (if often staged) streak to what he calls the “Trump disinhibition effect” of the present, where Ali would seem the most diffident of interlocutors against the blustering ex-president, who promulgated an ethos ranging “from general rudeness to outright dickishness, in politics and well beyond.” In this light, Kohan cites instances where insult comics backed off, recognizing that their poking fun was crossing the line into verbal abuse. The author deeply examines the psychology of trash talk, connecting it to the more positive quality of empathy—for, as primatologist Frans de Waal tells him, “In order to be cruel, you need to know what is hurtful to someone.” Kohan is also enough of a connoisseur of trash talk to distinguish the effective but relatively harmless slapdown from racist, misogynist, homophobic, or downright mean slurs—again a product of that disinhibition effect, which seems to be the current state of what should instead be a fine art of genteel character assassination.

A treat for students of language, as well as would-be Don Rickles heirs looking to hone their craft.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781541788916

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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