Spiegelman's preference for masters of “cool clarity, sharpened perception, and a transparent style” is revealed in his own...

SENIOR MOMENTS

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

A wide-ranging collection of essays reflecting the septuagenarian author’s rejection of the more hysterical predictions of cultural doom.

Spiegelman (English/Southern Methodist Univ.; Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness, 2009, etc.) believes that life is not “a dress rehearsal,” that the time we have on Earth is all that we will have, and that inhabiting the moment is vital. But the title of the book, however witty, is misleading. The author’s reflections on aging provide only the framework, not the essence, though he is uncommonly wise on the subject. Most engaging is “Talk,” in which he reflects on the performance art that is conversation and the brush strokes that are language. Free form at its best, with an intimacy connecting the give-and-take, conversation is not only the fundamental human art form, but also, in Spiegelman's view, the scaffolding of commerce and democracy. Yet speech, “our glory, is also our embarrassment and our shame” when the volume grows intrusive. As someone devoted to literature, the author’s sensibilities lean heavily toward the life of the mind and immersion in the arts, especially poetry, and at times he can come across as faintly effete. In matters of taste, he can be dismissive of predilections that are less aesthetically oriented. But he is unassailable in contemplating the glories of books and reading; the delusions (and gratifications) of nostalgia; the plague of noise; and the virtues of a silent, solitary study of a work of art. A regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the native Philadelphian was the longtime editor (1984-2016) of Southwest Review, living for 40 years in Dallas before his recent escape to Manhattan.

Spiegelman's preference for masters of “cool clarity, sharpened perception, and a transparent style” is revealed in his own writing, which is lucid and propulsive, opening portals to heightened enjoyment of the time we have.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-26122-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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