Meandering forays into the past that will likely appeal to those yearning for a slice of the old days.

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AT THE END OF THE ROAD

A BABY BOOMER IN RURAL KENTUCKY

A debut collection of short stories and essays mostly focuses on the author’s childhood in rural Kentucky but also strays into fiction.

Ashby, the titular baby boomer, grew up on a farm in Walton Creek, Kentucky, and the memory of this place informs his writing. The opener sees the author reflecting on his past as his plane taxis, thinking back to his farm and marveling at “how I got from such a simple beginning to this point in life.” He sees a nearly universal longing for the past reflected in a plain stick house, a notion that he links to the works of Thoreau, Twain, and Frost. He follows this theme of remembrance throughout the volume. In the next story, Ashby personifies an unnamed U.S. creek, reflecting on the natural world’s destruction by European colonists and, eventually, Americans. He returns to the wild in another anthropomorphic tale in which he converses with a snake before a chorus of nearby animals joins in, giving its perspective on humanity’s foolishness. The rest of the stories explore Ashby’s rural beginnings, often using one object to illuminate a larger point about modern society. In “Heirlooms and Poke Greens,” he humorously discusses how he eats dangerous vegetables despite society’s condemnation. He examines the uses of buckets in the old country in “The Water Bucket” and the rituals of washing and cleaning in “Dishpans and Rayon Mops.” The most intriguing tales involve the author’s childhood, from the light “The Chismus Cake,” about a disappointing fruitcake, to the heavier “My Old Friend,” which relates how Ashby and his dog made regular sojourns to the woods to deal with his father’s declining health. The author’s folksy register makes the book a quick read, but the themes start to become repetitive. Many of the tales compare how things were done in earlier decades to present practices. The sections on Ashby’s family are moving, but they are sandwiched between his peculiar fixations on old objects, which can create strange emotional swings. But the work’s ultimate philosophy remains hopeful; despite Ashby’s denouncements of the modern era, there is a belief that things will eventually get better.

Meandering forays into the past that will likely appeal to those yearning for a slice of the old days.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Acclaim Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2017

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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