A collection of essays with many virtues.

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REFLECTIONS OF A SOUTHERN LAWYER

A lawyer offers a series of brief reflections—personal, political, and literary.

Debut author Mayer was a successful attorney—“I made more money than I thought anyone could spend”—but was also inclined to meandering intellectual peregrinations, as evidenced by this eclectic assortment of essays. He covers an extraordinary expanse of meditative territory, discussing by turns matters both personal and philosophical. Many of the chapters—mostly very short and comprised of quick, reflective paragraphs almost aphoristic in their concision—explore the author’s obvious love of literature. A prodigious reader, Mayer opines on Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway, Céline, and Flannery O’Connor, among many others, and returns more than once to those books that exerted a lasting influence on him, like Albert Camus’ The Stranger. Some of his most trenchant aperçus come in the form of ruminations on his literary favorites: “We cannot solve the problem of suffering because we have fallen. Belief does not insure happiness and perhaps happiness does not even exist at our deeper levels. What does exist in Ms. O’Connor’s world is Grace. Grace is not deserved or demanded—it just is.” Mayer also touches on a host of other diverse subjects, including his career; friends and family; celebrities that apparently interest him; and the vexing nature of partisan politics. In one of the volume’s highlights, “Clarence Darrow as Told by Earl Rogers,” Rogers details his impressive claim to minor fame—the lawyer once defended the legendary attorney Darrow in a jury bribery trial in Los Angeles. Mayer, who is often facetious and wryly ironic, has Rogers voice these fictional claims in the essay: “Darrow would not be in the top one hundred trial lawyers ranked by those who know something about it. I would easily be in the top five and maybe first. Still, you have never heard of me.” The author has a lively and free-ranging mind and writes in lucidly elegant prose: “The question remains, can an immoral person be a genius and leave us something of lasting value? I believe so. A sinner sees things that virtuous people cannot see and genius is a gift from the gods that we best not squander.” The political essays are the least satisfying since they have an axe-grinding partisan bent that’s simply incompatible with either thoughtfulness or rigor: “Modern Conservatives hate the premise that we must be communal to survive and prosper. They see life as violent and a zero sum game.” In addition, the assemblage of essays as a whole has no discernible thematic core, some tonal key to which the parts intelligibly recur, other than the fact that they are all emanations of a single author’s mind. Further, the volume is not a particularly personal memoir, neither an autobiographical chronicle nor an emotional confessional. This compels the question: For whom is this book intended? In fact, given the peripatetic character of the essays and their almost outlinelike brevity, Mayer’s work doesn’t read as if it was envisioned for general consumption. 

A collection of essays with many virtues.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 173

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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