A finely crafted, affecting memoir of two brothers.

MISFITS & SUPERMEN

TWO BROTHERS' JOURNEY ALONG THE SPECTRUM

Set in midcentury New York City, Starger’s (Wally’s World, 2005, etc.) family memoir describes life with his autistic brother.

The author’s older brother, Melvyn Douglas Starger, was born in 1933 in the Bronx to Jewish, Eastern European parents. Despite initially appearing to be a happy, normal child, Melvyn showed unusual behaviors as he grew, symptoms of what subsequent generations would term autism. Steve Starger, born eight years later, grew up in the shadow of his brother’s otherness and his parents’ inability to handle it, particularly once Melvyn began showing signs of other mental health issues. “Some families,” recalls Starger, “when faced with crippling mental disabilities in a family member, bond together and face their futures in some kind of harmony. Other families fall apart, unable to face the fact of a terrible intruder in their midst. My family went the latter route.” The author wasn’t without issues of his own, a perennial misfit who was similar to his brother in many ways and yet who could only sometimes connect with him in what he terms Melvyn’s “Bizarro World,” borrowing a term from Melvyn’s beloved Superman comics. With this memoir, Starger explores their relationship to each other and to their parents, both as children and young adults, including Starger’s escape from his family into the music and drugs of the 1960s and Melvyn’s eventual full-time institutionalization. Starger, an experienced journalist, vividly details the times and places he inhabited over the course of his life. His depictions of his brother are both sympathetic and cleareyed, resulting in many heartbreaking passages: “Melvyn couldn’t respond to any of it except with an occasional shy smile when someone paid attention to him in a positive, loving way. He stuttered so terribly that it seemed his jaws would crack at the effort to speak.” This peculiar combination of family dysfunction, comic books, 1960s counterculture, and mental health makes for a unique, thoroughly engaging memoir that gets at the tragedy and dignity of our collective isolation from one another.

A finely crafted, affecting memoir of two brothers.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3518-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

THIS IS SHAKESPEARE

A brisk study of 20 of the Bard’s plays, focused on stripping off four centuries of overcooked analysis and tangled reinterpretations.

“I don’t really care what he might have meant, nor should you,” writes Smith (Shakespeare Studies/Oxford Univ.; Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 2016, etc.) in the introduction to this collection. Noting the “gappy” quality of many of his plays—i.e., the dearth of stage directions, the odd tonal and plot twists—the author strives to fill those gaps not with psychological analyses but rather historical context for the ambiguities. She’s less concerned, for instance, with whether Hamlet represents the first flower of the modern mind and instead keys into how the melancholy Dane and his father share a name, making it a study of “cumulative nostalgia” and our difficulty in escaping our pasts. Falstaff’s repeated appearances in multiple plays speak to Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing tendencies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a bawdier and darker exploration of marriage than its teen-friendly interpretations suggest. Smith’s strict-constructionist analyses of the plays can be illuminating: Her understanding of British mores and theater culture in the Elizabethan era explains why Richard III only half-heartedly abandons its charismatic title character, and she is insightful in her discussion of how Twelfth Night labors to return to heterosexual convention after introducing a host of queer tropes. Smith's Shakespeare is eminently fallible, collaborative, and innovative, deliberately warping play structures and then sorting out how much he needs to un-warp them. Yet the book is neither scholarly nor as patiently introductory as works by experts like Stephen Greenblatt. Attempts to goose the language with hipper references—Much Ado About Nothing highlights the “ ‘bros before hoes’ ethic of the military,” and Falstaff is likened to Homer Simpson—mostly fall flat.

A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4854-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.

HOW MUSIC WORKS

From the former Talking Heads frontman, a supremely intelligent, superbly written dissection of music as an art form and way of life.

Drawing on a lifetime of music-making as an amateur, professional, performer, producer, band member and solo artist, Byrne (Bicycle Diaries, 2009) tackles the question implicit in his title from multiple angles: How does music work on the ear, brain and body? How do words relate to music in a song? How does live performance relate to recorded performance? What effect has technology had on music, and music on technology? Fans of the Talking Heads should find plenty to love about this book. Steering clear of the conflicts leading to the band’s breakup, Byrne walks through the history, album by album, to illustrate how his views about performance and recording changed with the onset of fame and (small) fortune. He devotes a chapter to the circumstances that made the gritty CBGB nightclub an ideal scene for adventurous artists like Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Tom Verlaine and Television. Always an intensely thoughtful experimenter, here he lets us in on the thinking behind the experiments. But this book is not just, or even primarily, a rock memoir. It’s also an exploration of the radical transformation—or surprising durability—of music from the beginning of the age of mechanical reproduction through the era of iTunes and MP3s. Byrne touches on all kinds of music from all ages and every part of the world.

Highly recommended—anyone at all interested in music will learn a lot from this book.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-53-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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