A convincing, if occasionally unwieldy, guidebook for a better future.

HEALING AMERICA'S NARRATIVES

THE FEMININE, THE MASCULINE, & OUR COLLECTIVE NATIONAL SHADOW

An educator’s vision for healing America’s traumatic past and politically fractured present.

A classroom teacher for more than two decades, Marra is the co-founder of the Fully Human at Work organization, which provides interdisciplinary workshops on cultivating a more conscientious and thoughtful culture in Americans’ relationships within the workplace and with fellow citizens more broadly. This book, which complements the organization’s purpose, provides a theoretical and analytical perspective on American history and its current state of sociopolitical division. The election of Donald Trump in 2016, the author notes, led many Americans to question prevailing narratives about democracy and equality in the U.S. Yet as appalling as Trump was to many Americans, according to Marra, he embodied a “collective American Shadow” that revealed “the worst of ourselves” and a larger history of American “ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, [and] bullying.” The book is divided into three parts; the first section provides historical and psychological context and commentary on the history and persistence of this “Shadow.” Part 2 centers on the whitewashed narratives Americans have told themselves, which minimize the mistreatment of women, African Americans, and Indigenous peoples. Despite these historic wrongs, which the author connects to systemic issues that still impact the present, the book is optimistic in tone, emphasizing hope in the possibility of national healing. To this end, its final section centers on “strategies, tactics, practices, and ways of being” that provide practical actions that individuals can make in their own lives to foster collective healing. The author of multiple books of poetry and inspirational nonfiction, Marra is well versed in classical literature, philosophy, and history, and this work is full of references to Jungian philosophy, the writing of feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, and often marginalized historical events. Despite a sophisticated presentation of critical theory, U.S. history, and philosophy, the book carefully balances nuance with accessibility and practical application. Still, at 500-plus pages, the book would benefit from a trim.  

A convincing, if occasionally unwieldy, guidebook for a better future.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9862690-1-6

Page Count: 515

Publisher: From the Heart Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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