A warm evocation of a quirky life and exuberant times.

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ARBITRARY STUPID GOAL

Candid recollections of growing up in Greenwich Village in the 1980s.

Graphic designer, illustrator, and memoirist Shopsin (Mumbai New York Scranton, 2013, etc.) continues her life story in a chronicle constructed of terse paragraphs, whimsical graphics, and family photographs. The author, her twin sister, and three brothers ranged freely in the neighborhood around Morton Street, where her parents—her irascible father, Kenny, a cook, and gentle mother, Eve—owned The Store, a grocery, later turned into a restaurant that attracted celebrities such as John Belushi, Calvin Trillin (he paid in cookbooks), poet Joseph Brodsky, John F. Kennedy Jr., handsome in Lycra bike shorts, and a host of models, rock stars, and athletes. Good customers got a set of keys so they could go to the store any time it was closed, write down what they took, and pay later. Born in 1979, the year the schoolboy Etan Patz disappeared, Shopsin was hardly overprotected. “The city may have been more dangerous,” she writes, “but it was a less hostile place. Everyone knew each other.” Still, she witnessed blacks beaten up by a gang of boys, drug addicts sleeping in doorways, and homeless people living in playgrounds. “It is easy to cite the bad in the filthy chaos of New York before luxury condos,” she writes. “It is harder to express the spirit, life, and community that the chaos and inefficiency bred.” The author succeeds admirably in expressing that spirit, largely through sharp, loving portraits of two brash, irreverent, opinionated men: her father, who summarily banned certain customers from his restaurant, and his best friend Willy, superintendent of an apartment building, occasional nightclub singer, flagrant womanizer, and scam artist. Shopsin adored them both. It was her father who came up with the phrase “Arbitrary Stupid Goal” to describe his “guiding belief”: “A goal that isn’t too important makes you live in the moment, and still gives you a driving force” that allows you “to find ecstasy in the small things, the unexpected, and the everyday.”

A warm evocation of a quirky life and exuberant times.

Pub Date: July 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-10586-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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