A potent, heartfelt life story.



Manhattan-based librarian Conan grapples with complex mental disorders and misdiagnoses in this tumultuous memoir.

The author, who was born in 1942, writes that she grew up in Brooklyn with an elementary school teacher mother, an abusive father who worked at the post office,and a younger brother. Hers was an unhappy childhood, although she found some sense of normalcy in school and at Girl Scout camp. However, she felt a hole in her sense of self that developed into a “secret world” called “the Atmosphere”; it included an imaginary hospital with doctors that treated her illnesses, and imaginary companions such as the YellowSweaterLady and Jinx. She soon entered psychoanalysis but saw scant results until college in 1960, when she began to see a less formal analyst and began to make progress. Conan later worked as a substitute teacher and attended New York’s Pratt Institute; she also contemplated suicide, and she committed herself to a psychiatric ward for the first time in 1965. She found some peace working as a librarian at Pratt and earned a master’s degree in library science. But after further breakdowns and hospitalizations, she moved to a halfway house in the Bronx. She then met a therapist who helped identify her disorders, and another therapist who was the first who seemed to fully understand her—and upon whom she became increasingly dependent. Over the course of this lengthy memoir, Conan only minimally speaks about her feelings about her condition, which intensifies the book’s feeling of sustained detachment and unease. Instead, she conveys her state of mind to the reader through moments of eloquent narration: “If the floor had been sand, I would not have left footprints.” She also clearly shows how she was able to function in the real world, despite her overwhelming disorders, and she exhibits a sense of crystalline self-awareness throughout the text (“I felt myself slipping back into craziness”). Some readers may find this memoir to be overlong, but the exhilarating prose style effectively gets across the author’s touching and frenetic experiences.

A potent, heartfelt life story.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73467-401-9

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Greenpoint Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


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 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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