A tragedy whose outcome is foretold and a gentle, uplifting contribution to the literature of death and dying.

WHAT WE WISH WERE TRUE

REFLECTIONS ON NURTURING LIFE AND FACING DEATH

A lyrical, searching meditation on terminal illness.

Maybe death is not the worst thing?” So a friend asked Quinn, a thought that led her to ponder what might be worse—or better. Diagnosed with glioblastoma, a once-rare but increasingly common form of brain cancer, the author places her illness in the context of 2020, when bad news on the pandemic, the economy, and politics filled the newspapers. “I guess none of us have been living in ‘normal’ times,” she writes, with what proves to be characteristic generosity. Her life (she died in 2022 at age 42) had been one of service: founding food-relief organizations to serve the poor, including the Nashville Food Project; volunteering to aid poor communities in Nicaragua; and, as a one-time seminarian, trying to reconcile a view of theology too broad for any single faith to embrace. Quinn’s thoughts as her disease progresses are seldom self-centered, though, as she writes, “I’m not trying to gild the lily here—I hate this cancer.” Her concerns are mostly with her family and the grief they will experience, grief that she was forced to navigate as she drew closer to debilitation and death: “It’s becoming harder and harder for me to think and write.” Even at the end, having given the gift of food for so long—and having carefully distinguished things done for others and done with others—Quinn praises her young daughter for making dinner for her husband and son, noting “how lucky the boys are—and will be—to have her cooking amazing food for them and with them.” There are moments of pathos, but far fewer than the author deserves to air. Instead, the narrative becomes a prayer to life, with a conclusion comforting anyone on the path to death—which is to say, all of us—that imagines what she might become in the afterlife.

A tragedy whose outcome is foretold and a gentle, uplifting contribution to the literature of death and dying.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-44290-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Convergent/Crown

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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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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