An engaging collection of sharp, lively essays.

TAKING A LONG LOOK

ESSAYS ON CULTURE, LITERATURE AND FEMINISM IN OUR TIME

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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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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A self-aware confessional from a successful and controversial musician.

REMEMBERINGS

The Grammy-winning Irish singer/songwriter looks back on her eventful life.

Promising candor and clarity, O’Connor (b. 1966) opens with a caveat that her story only details lucid periods of her life when she was psychologically “present.” Omitting hazy years in which she drifted off “somewhere else inside myself”—material some readers may wish she included—the author shares pivotal milestones (raising four children) and entertaining anecdotes. O’Connor vividly recalls an abusive Catholic childhood in Dublin with a cruel, unstable mother. As a rebellious teenager, she was sent to a reform asylum, where her love for music became the ultimate refuge, leading to band gigs and eventually a record deal in London in 1985. The Lion and the Cobra achieved gold status, and O’Connor describes the development of her persona: shaved head, baggy clothing, and stormy, antagonistic, always forthright demeanor. The author addresses her mental health challenges and experimentation with sex and drugs (“In the locked ward where they put you if you’re suicidal, there’s more class A drugs than in Shane MacGowan’s dressing room”) as well as two iconic moments in her career: her smash-hit cover of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” and her notorious performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, when she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II. “A lot of people say or think that tearing up the pope’s photo derailed my career. That’s not how I feel about it,” she writes. Rather, it allowed her to return to her roots as a live performer instead of remaining on the pop-star trajectory (“you have to be a good girl for that”). In cathartic sections, O’Connor considers the era leading up to that appearance as a personal death, with the years following a kind of “rebirth.” Though she touches on her agoraphobia and later psychological issues, with which many of her fans will be familiar, the final third of the memoir sputters somewhat, growing less revelatory than earlier passages.

A self-aware confessional from a successful and controversial musician.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-42388-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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