Especially valuable for the early chapters on the youthful, pre-fame Williams, but in its entirety a tender portrait that...

MY FRIEND TOM

THE POET-PLAYWRIGHT TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

Fragmentary but affecting memories of the playwright by former Library of Congress poetry consultant Smith (Up the Hill and Down, 2003, etc.).

They met in 1935 at Washington University in St. Louis, where Williams, Smith and Clark Mills were the only male students in the Poetry Club. Williams thought of himself primarily as a poet in those days, although he had already written some one-act dramas. His first full-length plays were presented in 1937 by an amateur theatrical group, the Mummers. Smith, who attended both, provides appreciative descriptions of Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind, which demonstrated that Williams’ poetic gifts were best served in the theater. The adequate but unexciting verses Smith quotes illustrate the same point, but Williams continued to write poetry throughout his life. The author movingly captures the importance of poetry to Williams in his account of the disastrous 1940 Boston premiere of Battle of Angels, after which the distraught playwright asked his friend to read John Donne aloud to ease his despair. Smith’s recollections of seeing The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire are less interesting, mostly because the plays have been written about so much, but the author’s affection for his troubled friend is evident even in later chapters that show Williams making public appearances visibly under the influence of drink and drugs. Smith suggests that Williams never really got over the death of his companion Frank Merlo. The author has a knack for selecting astute, little-known critical evaluations of Williams from such unlikely sources as Kenneth Tynan and John Simon (both uncharacteristically appreciative); he also uncovers an intriguing exchange between Williams and Yukio Mishima, who agreed that Southern and Japanese literature had strong affinities. There’s nothing revelatory in these slightly scattered reminiscences, but they flesh out our knowledge of Williams with a warmly personal touch.

Especially valuable for the early chapters on the youthful, pre-fame Williams, but in its entirety a tender portrait that will appeal to scholars and fans alike.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61703-175-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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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 wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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