RULES FOR OTHERS TO LIVE BY by Richard Greenberg


Comments and Self-Contradictions
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A Tony Award–winning playwright turns his hand to humorous nonfiction in this generally disarming, self-mocking collection of essays on matters personal and cultural.

From its cheeky title to the arresting bons mots sprinkled throughout, the book is a breezy read that cloaks some penetrating truths in occasionally flippant, mildly corrosive remarks. Some pieces are just writerly doodling with little to commend them. Greenberg, who has written two dozen plays and styles himself an urban recluse, believes that when one spends an inordinate amount of time inside, one's perceptions when out of doors are sharpened (a dubious notion). He addresses many of the more vexing questions of modern life with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and at his best, he is both wryly funny or scathing, especially regarding our propensity to mistake talking about an injustice for actually doing something about it. Greenberg sometimes gets serious, as in his observation about the rocky shoals of political correctness. “The language of cultural transit,” he writes, “is tricky and constantly mutating and one can be embraced and then shunned for the very same gesture.” Among many other subjects, he weighs in on the unexpected pleasures of achieving an aim by telling the truth, on the divide between judgment and opinion, on self-congratulatory literary criticism, on the scarcity of unretouched beauty, and on the absurdity of dismissing exceptional work solely because its practitioner may be disagreeable. Mixed in are appreciations of Greenberg's more colorful friends, among them the late actress Jill Clayburgh. Reminiscent of David Eagleman's Sum (2009), in tone if not in content, the shorter essays can be mere fragments of a page. Irresistible “hooks” sometimes compete with padding, and toward the end, the author gets a bit showy with his vocabulary.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, most readers will be disappointed to reach the final page.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-399-57652-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016


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