An inspiring philanthropic account that deftly displays the author’s affability, knowledge, and passion.

THE 24-HOUR SOUP KITCHEN

SOUL-STIRRING LESSONS IN GASTROPHILANTHROPY

A New York–based journalist recounts his experiences in some of the world’s soup kitchens in this debut memoir.

Henderson was in France on a mission to buy an “absurdly expensive oven” when he was asked if he had ever come across the Frenchman Alexis Soyer, who became Victorian Britain’s most celebrated chef. Learning about Soyer, inventor of the soup kitchen, inspired the author to begin his own “gastrophilanthropic” journey. Interested in feeding large numbers of people but with no professional training, Henderson began utilizing his journalistic expeditions as a way of learning more. When visiting Delhi to write an article about India’s fashion week, he discovered that Sikh temples “operate 24-hour soup kitchens.” He later completed a five-day apprenticeship at one such kitchen. The author’s travels also took him to Iran, where he learned about nazr, a spiritual vow that can involve “voluntarily cooking for others.” Henderson then made his own vow to volunteer at a soup kitchen in Pittsburgh to celebrate each year that his niece completed in her Ph.D. program. The memoir details his experiences in Japan, where he stayed at a Buddhist temple; Mexico, where he cooked a meal for a group of “homeless street kids and transgendered sex workers”; Peru; Israel; and South Korea. The author also discusses volunteering at soup kitchens across America.

Henderson’s writing bubbles with enthusiasm. When describing feeding a group of seemingly nonchalant youths at a shelter in Los Angeles, he writes: “What I saw…over the next hour was how a home-cooked meal can transform a roomful of sullen teenagers into a group of cheerful children.” His narrative is also woven with a wealth of background data that underlines the gravity of the homelessness crisis: “It’s also estimated that there may be between one million and three million homeless children currently living on the streets in the United States.” The author’s delightful descriptive skills that often draw on culinary metaphors add a sprinkling of levity to a serious subject (a road in the Andes is depicted as having the “consistency of pudding” and an Israeli tour guide had “hair dyed a shade of red best described as ‘medium rare’ ”). Henderson is conscious of how his approach to “gastrophilanthropy” is viewed by others. He candidly reveals that one friend referred to his journeys as “magical misery tours” whereas another nicknamed him “His Holiness” behind his back. Unafraid to introduce a broad range of perspectives to the memoir, the author admits that “making a meal is, after all, an imposition of your taste onto someone else.” He intelligently defends his position on feeding the poor, drawing on the French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s proposal that “charity is based on income inequity.” Henderson boldly dismisses this explanation as “a clever intellectual’s rationale for doing nothing.” The author draws courage from how his idol, Soyer, was also derided for his acts of charity but endeavored to make a change regardless. This book would benefit from a more determined effort to smoothly segue between chapters; it occasionally reads as a series of independent essays that do not fit together. But this detracts little from a graceful, well-balanced, and enlightening work.

An inspiring philanthropic account that deftly displays the author’s affability, knowledge, and passion.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63576-706-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Radius Book Group

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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