Dubious entertainment best left unread, except by those who need to compare themselves with other ne’er-do-wells in order to...

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WAITING FOR MY CATS TO DIE

A MEMOIR

A middle-aged single woman living with two diabetic cats in a shabby, haunted New York apartment chronicles her anxiety, her obsession with death, and the unending failures that have plagued her personal and professional life.

Admitting that her first book, Cyberville (1997), did not sell well, Horn attempts to boost her self-esteem by penning these “memoirs,” which focus on her thoroughly depressing life and awkward personality. Just over 40 years old, she has forsaken any hope of meeting “the right guy,” contenting herself with very occasional one-night stands. Her idea of intimacy is demonstrating the fat rolls on her tummy to a male friend. Even her business gives her no opportunity to get away from her problems. Horn is the founder of the chat room Echo.com, a place where a bunch of unhappy individuals spend hours rehashing their own misery. Unsurprisingly, many of her client “chatters” do not pay their bills, and Horn has to supplement her meager income working in a local bookstore. Her fixation on mortality drives her to search for deceased ancestors and abandoned cemeteries, and to conduct interviews in old-age homes. The investigation she launches to discover the identity of the sad ghost who was marooned in her apartment after some terrible tragedy occurred there in the ’50s is perhaps the only intriguing part of her book. Otherwise this story, circumscribed by existential horror and boredom, offers no insights into the mystery of life. Its uninspiring content is hardly redeemed by Horn’s feeble attempts to take her own words with a grain of salt. Ill at ease with herself, Horn imparts this uneasiness to her narrative and her audience.

Dubious entertainment best left unread, except by those who need to compare themselves with other ne’er-do-wells in order to feel better about their own predicament.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26692-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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