Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.

(NOT THAT YOU ASKED)

RANTS, EXPLOITS, AND OBSESSIONS

What do Joyce Carol Oates, snotty bloggers, right-wing radio freaks and a VH-1 reality show have in common? They all get on this author’s nerves—and thank goodness.

In his cult memoir Candyfreak (2004), Almond portrayed himself as a goofy and affable obsessive, a sweets nut willing to do anything within his considerable journalistic powers to track down the perfect piece of chocolate. With his first collection of nonfiction essays, he takes on a darker, funnier, more mature persona: still affable and obsessive, but far less goofy—a pop-culture-saturated intellectual, a kindly grouch, vitriolic Boston Red Sox hater, neurotic new father and Kurt Vonnegut fanatic. Actually, this project was “supposed to be about Vonnegut,” declares Almond, but “the folks at Random House…wanted a book of essays instead. So it goes.” That being the case, it’s little surprise that the chapter on Vonnegut is the collection’s deepest and most thoughtful, especially notable for its priceless recounting of a literary panel/smackdown featuring a crusty Vonnegut, a hostile Joyce Carol Oates and a vapid Jennifer Weiner (no question about whose side Almond is on). When the essayist gets around to discussing himself, he proves to be secure with his insecurities, comfortable enough with his readers to share astoundingly embarrassing events from his sexually confused adolescence, including an episode featuring his mother, a dog and a used condom. Almond has an original, fresh voice and compelling stories to share. Never the least bit pretentious, both his prose and subject matter are accessible, and his righteous indignation is as pleasant as righteous indignation can be. Whether bemoaning the inanity of reality television, justifying his love for the cheese-metal band Tesla or good-naturedly ragging on Oprah Winfrey, he scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection.

Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6619-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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