Powerful and revelatory, this is an essential, paradigm-shifting book.

THE VIRAL UNDERCLASS

THE HUMAN TOLL WHEN INEQUALITY AND DISEASE COLLIDE

A renowned journalist and scholar lays bare the unequal effects of viral pandemics and the ways in which capitalist power structures exploit—and indeed, create—a viral underclass.

In this riveting book, Northwestern professor Thrasher, who holds “the first journalism professorship in the world created to focus on LGBTQ research,” blends critical theory, engaging storytelling, and memoir to tell the stories of human beings whose lives and bodies are subject to a manufactured vulnerability sustained by classism, racism, and stigma. Through on-the-ground reporting from across the globe, the author deconstructs the entanglement among poverty, population density, policing, and viral illness, demonstrating that “viruses interact with the power structures already at play in our society so that those who are already marginalized are left even more susceptible to danger, exacerbating existing social divides. But more important…it is social structures that are the drivers, while viruses merely amplify.” Thrasher is masterful in his ability to contrast vivid anecdotes with carefully crafted, meticulously researched prose to shine a light on a few of the many people subjected to this feedback loop as well as the heroes who devote their lives to defending their communities against structural inequality and police violence. The author’s own role is significant: Through his reporting and activism, he altered the discourse surrounding the criminalization of HIV and helped free a Black man from a 30-year prison sentence, an ordeal that demonstrated “the overlapping maps of racism and policing and viruses.” Throughout this insightful and unflinching book, Thrasher is unafraid to let his anger shine, but he also consistently deploys love and compassion. In a text marked by mistreatment and loss, the author encourages hope: “Viruses have the potential to help us make a world predicated upon love and mutual respect for all living things, not just in the here and now, but across time and space.”

Powerful and revelatory, this is an essential, paradigm-shifting book.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-79663-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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