Sometimes cranky but consistently engaging takes on cultural corrosion and collapse.



Sharp commentaries on the arts and academia and the forces the author believes threaten them.

This selection of essays by veteran critic Deresiewicz, which followsThe Death of the Artist, reveals an open-mindedness when it comes to subject matter. The author writes enthusiastically about fiction, dance, TV, and more. He admires heterodox intellectuals like Harold Rosenberg and polymaths like Clive James. But he also writes with a conservative cantankerousness about what he sees as higher education’s descent into groupthink and younger generations’ rush to embrace it. In multiple essays, he decries colleges’ dismantling of the humanities in favor of STEM departments more obviously capable of minting interchangeable employees, and he calls out the dogmatic thinking that consumes elite institutions. He gripes about political correctness, partly in exasperation with its knee-jerk tendencies (“If you are a white man, you are routinely regarded as guilty until proven innocent”), but he’s also upset at its broader cynicism, the way it’s a “fig leaf for the competitive individualism of meritocratic neoliberalism, with its worship of success above all.” When Deresiewicz, the winner of a National Book Critics Circle award for excellence in reviewing, has a juicy target, it can be surprisingly good fun: His assault on Harold Bloom’s late-era woolliness is a classic takedown, and his jeremiad about the folly of elevating food to an art form is debatable in the right way: a provocation with enough facts behind it to be worth discussing. A stronger sense of humor might help some of his assertions go down easier, and he’s capable of it, as in a wry piece about Bernard Malamud, a fellow fish-out-of-water Jew in Oregon. Deresiewicz’s soberness speaks to the intensity of his concern: The humanities are under threat by legislators, technology, and its own practitioners, and he’s a passionate advocate for their dignity.

Sometimes cranky but consistently engaging takes on cultural corrosion and collapse.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-85864-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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