Both an intensely lyrical and intimate scrapbook of familial history and a uniquely sublime travelogue of the American...

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Walking the Llano


A debut memoir delivers a meditation on a writer’s Texas Panhandle homeland.

Armitage (The Post-2000 Film Western, 2016, etc.), a professor emerita of English and American Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, begins her book with a return to her family home in Vega. Located in the middle of a sprawling prairie surrounded by acres of grassland, the area was settled by folks like her father, who arrived there at age 16 in 1926 with his family after being flooded out from their Arkansas delta farm. The author fondly describes the 32,000-square-mile Llano Estacado of her homeland as one of the largest North American plateaus and a place historically cultivated primarily by private ranches. Only briefly does the writer dip into her more recent ecological efforts, using government-funded conservation resources, to restore the native grasses and the natural wildlife habitats decimated from decades of farming. She questions what the land has to say and intends on discovering just that in an expansive series of hikes, beginning at her father’s Armitage Farms ranch and spanning miles to reach the cow camp of original cowboy and area settler Ysabel to “track the arc of their stories.” In a meandering, somewhat repetitive, but no less resonant fashion, Armitage unfurls the bucolic history of her family and the land through a rather haphazardly assembled procession of convivial anecdotes from her youth. In a series of spontaneously navigated summer treks, she tracks alongside the long-dried-up Middle Alamosa creek bed to behold dramatic canyons, Native American petroglyphs, and majestic mesas, all interwoven with the often bittersweet snippets of her life growing up. Beholden to the dusty plateaus of her past and the sweeping natural beauty that remains, the author’s intent was to revisit and rediscover the bounty of the area and to share its nostalgic and environmental potential. Armitage’s language and her memories are poetically written, even when describing the prairies that have become tainted by human occupation and depleted and disfigured by “sheep, cattle, farming, strip mining, oil, gas exploration, feed lots, dairies, microwave and cell phone towers.” An engaging geographer and historian, Armitage takes the pulse of the sacred land spread out before her through luminous memories and photographs, all with an appreciative eye and a nod toward its untapped ecological splendor.

Both an intensely lyrical and intimate scrapbook of familial history and a uniquely sublime travelogue of the American Southwestern landscape.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8061-5162-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: University of Oklahoma

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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