An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.

BAD FEMINIST

ESSAYS

Essayist, novelist and pop-culture guru Gay (An Untamed State, 2014, etc.) sounds off on the frustrating complexities of gender and race in pop culture and society as a whole.

In this diverse collection of short essays, the author launches her critical salvos at seemingly countless waves of pop-cultural cannon fodder. Although the title can be somewhat misleading—she’s more of an inconsistent or conflicted feminist—the author does her best to make up for any feminist flaws by addressing, for instance, the disturbing language bandied about carelessly in what she calls “rape culture” in society—and by Gay’s measure, this is a culture in which even the stately New York Times is complicit. However, she makes weak attempts at coming to terms with her ambivalence toward the sort of violent female empowerment depicted in such movies as The Hunger Games. Gay explores the reasons for her uneasiness with the term “women’s fiction” and delivers some not-very-convincing attempts to sort out what drives her to both respect and loathe a femalecentric TV show like Lena Dunham’s Girls. Although generally well-written, some of these gender-studies essays come off as preachy and dull as a public service announcement—especially the piece about her endless self-questioning of her love-hate relationship with the tacky female-submission fantasies in Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet when it comes to race-related matters (in the section "Race and Entertainment"), Gay’s writing is much more impassioned and persuasive. Whether critiquing problematic pandering tropes in Tyler Perry’s movies or the heavy-handed and often irresponsible way race is dealt with in movies like The Help12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained, Gay relentlessly picks apart mainstream depictions of the black experience on-screen and rightfully laments that “all too often critical acclaim for black films is built upon the altar of black suffering or subjugation.”

An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-228271-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 16

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

more