THE ROCK OF ARLES

A brief but pithy, informative piece of work, representing a unique approach to history writing.

Arles, France sits at an intersection point of European history, and this quirky book examines the key turning points.

This is likely the first book authored by a geological formation, in this case by the plateau of limestone on which the French city of Arles stands. That, at least, is the explanation put forward by Klein, the author of Cigarettes Are Sublime, who jokingly claims that the Rock narrated the story of the town's history to him—in French, which the author then transcribed and translated. It’s a clever, inside-out technique that allows for a certain amount of speculation, as well as some clever banter between Klein and the Rock. “Nothing in the text should be considered reliable,” writes Klein. Arles is a crossroads city, wedged between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River. Klein (and/or the Rock) frames the story around three Arles natives, each known for their independent views. Favorinus was a philosopher and orator during the Roman era, known for his erudition. Kalonymus ben Kalonymus was a Hebrew poet who became a crucial translator of Arabic versions of Greek works, returning classical thinking to Europe. Pierre-Antoine Antonelle was an aristocrat who changed sides during the French revolution and became violently radical. All three are largely forgotten by the outside world but are revered in Arles. The argumentative Arlesians, however, have a history of fighting among themselves, and the streets have run with blood more than once. The story takes some interesting detours, such as Klein’s account of the revolt against the Catholic Church in the 13th century and the history of the arena built by the Romans. Whether readers go along with the narrative trick or not, the book is an engaging, enjoyable read.

A brief but pithy, informative piece of work, representing a unique approach to history writing.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781478025726

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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