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50 STATES OF MIND

A JOURNEY TO REDISCOVER AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

A chatty and engaging road trip into the many hearts of America.

A graduate student tours the United States talking to ordinary Americans in Bernsten’s nonfiction debut.

The author, a fan of Alexis de Tocqueville’s landmark treatise Democracy in America, embarks on a modern-day version of that visiting French aristocrat’s tour of the nation. Bernsten travels over 23,000 miles, visiting over 150 cities and towns in all 50 states, all with the aim of finding answers to some cornerstone questions: “Does American democracy still work? Can we still coexist peacefully?” These questions are born of the author’s shrewd opening contention that “The pulse of America is elusive. There is no steady beat; there is only the erratic rhythm of a people with very little shared history constantly rediscovering how to live together.” He gets in his car and sets out, and the following chapters are filled with both personal and atmospheric details of all the regions he visits: “It was night-time when I arrived in New Haven (population 129,585),” reads one such passage, “meaning that, in the darkness, I missed any nuance between Rhode Island’s wooded backroads and Connecticut’s wooded backroads”). Bernsten, a former staffer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, seeks out conversations with ordinary Americans of all political stripes in the course of his travels. This narrative conceit is perhaps a bit naive in an age when the Department of Homeland Security has documented the widespread threat of armed white supremacist groups all across the country, and at times the author’s on-the-road epiphanies feel forced and trite (“If nothing else panned out on this journey, it was worth it for this crab cake”). But Bernsten is a good storyteller and fine company on the trip, resulting in a book that may prove eye-opening to hyper-partisan Americans who need a reminder that they mostly like (and mostly are like) their neighbors.

A chatty and engaging road trip into the many hearts of America.

Pub Date: March 15, 2023

ISBN: 9781739310745

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bite-Sized Books Ltd

Review Posted Online: May 19, 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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