A smart, droll essay collection that is all over the map but focused by Crosley’s consistently sharp eye.




The latest collection from the Manhattan-based essayist suggests she can write engagingly about nearly anything.

A decade after establishing herself with her bestselling debut, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, Crosley (The Clasp, 2015, etc.) now finds herself addressing concerns and issues bordering on middle age, and she doesn’t like it. An early example of how many thematic levels she builds into an essay comes with “Outside Voices,” which seems, early on, to be about living in proximity to others, and then, more specifically, about “living on the most densely populated slip of land in America.” A lesser essayist would mine this for all it’s worth, but for Crosley, this is merely context for what comes to obsess her—the teenage boy next door and the family that entitles him to disturb the author’s personal space with his noisy outdoor social life. What really bothers her about him is his youth, which shows her how old she has become. So while the essay addresses the challenges and annoyances of overcrowded Manhattan, to the voyeuristic delight of readers who haven’t chosen to live there, it goes deeper into the universal ambivalence of realizing that you are no longer young and must seek out some type of second act as 40 approaches. As is typical in such collections, some essays are more ambitious and fully realized than others, but all work on multiple levels and all are sharply written, as Crosley continues to extend her impressive range. A writer writing about the writing life would not seem promising until she stumbles into a coven of pot-growing swingers who take the essay in an entirely different direction. An appearance on the canceled Gossip Girl might seem dated if it weren’t so perceptive on various levels of celebrity and the stereotypes that public figures adopt. The author’s closing essay on preserving her eggs is a marvel of ambivalence on ticking clocks and motherhood.

A smart, droll essay collection that is all over the map but focused by Crosley’s consistently sharp eye.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-27984-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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