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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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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