An engaging collection of sharp, lively essays.



A feminist perspective on life and art.

Early in her writing career, Gornick “stumbled on the style that was becoming known as personal journalism” and “immediately recognized it as my own.” For more than four decades, she honed that style in essays on literature, culture, New York life, and feminism, represented here by a series of pieces revised from previous publication. In “Toward a Definition of the Female Sensibility,” the author celebrates “the re-creation in women of the experiencing self that is the business of contemporary feminism. Vast internal changes must occur in women in which old responses, old habits, old emotional convictions are examined under a new light: the light of consciousness.” This new consciousness informs much of Gornick’s writing, such as her uncompromising critique of novelist James Salter, who, she asserts, was preoccupied “with wartime glory, money, and class distinction, and sex, sex, sex.” Salter depicted women not “as fellow creatures but…as the source of an enraptured virility that alone makes life worth living.” In contrast, Mary McCarthy, once one of Gornick’s favorite writers, spoke to “another kind of romance alive in us, one closer to the bone; that of seeing ourselves as New Women, independent working girls out in the world.” She chides acerbic critic Diana Trilling for spending her life “declaring that she was her own separate self” but never imagining herself “except in relation to her husband,” Lionel. While most essays on literature and culture focus on canonical figures (Melville, Primo Levi, Hannah Arendt, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rachel Carson), Gornick pays homage to lesser-known Black writer Kathleen Collins, whose voice, “black, urban, unmistakably rooted in lived experience,” acutely conveyed “what it was like to be living inside that complex identity…the way Grace Paley used her New York Jewishness, to explore the astonishment of human existence”—an astonishment that Gornick shares.

An engaging collection of sharp, lively essays.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78873-977-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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