An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.


A writer offers a recollection of growing up gay in the Philadelphia suburbs and a love story set amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s.

Connell ambitiously weaves together three narrative devices—a journal, a traditional memoir, and a timeline of the HIV/AIDS pandemic—but keeps them easily distinguishable through the use of different typefaces. Beginning in January 1993 and covering the final year of his partner Stephan’s life, the journal allows for a raw, immediate account of their relationship as it was tested by the exigencies of survival, with countless moments of tender intimacy and gut-punching reality. It’s an exhausting read—the audience can virtually feel the physical suffering—but the author does not shy away from chronicling the emotional turmoil either, as he wondered how much longer he could care for Stephan at home. Connell also presents vignettes in a refreshing, localized way; for example, he mentions a particular purveyor and flavor of Philadelphia’s famous “Italian water ice” that allowed Stephan to counteract the metallic sensation in his mouth. The sections featuring a more traditional memoir style begin with the author recalling a largely idyllic childhood in an Irish Catholic family. But with the onset of adolescence, his religious doubts and gay sexuality intertwined to complicate matters, becoming a recurring theme, especially regarding fraught relationships with his parents and several siblings. As Connell succinctly comments in the foreword, “It is one of my biggest confusions in life, to watch over and over how a beautiful and heartfelt faith can be so cruel in its expression.” Eventually, these memoir chapters pass the journal entries, ending a year after Stephan’s death, when the author began a new life in Boston. Overall, the only drawback is that the project could use another round of editing. For instance, beyond the distracting spelling and grammatical errors and missing words, the Horsham Clinic somehow becomes the Ambler Clinic, and a reference to Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency (November 1992) appears in the journal, which ostensibly covers 1993. But the illuminating timeline, with content gleaned from cited sources, presents key dates, factoids, and quotations from the early ’80s through 1996, when more effective HIV/AIDS treatment options emerged—a vivid reminder of how medical workers and various communities responded to a health crisis in the face of governmental inaction.

An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020


Page Count: 250

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.


All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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