If you’re a fan of the magic that is an artful bourbon, this is just the book for you.

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PAPPYLAND

A STORY OF FAMILY, FINE BOURBON, AND THE THINGS THAT LAST

An amiable journey, courtesy of ESPN sportswriter Thompson, into the arcana of American whiskey.

The author notes that he originally pitched this book as a biography of Julian P. Van Winkle III, a genial whiskey-whisperer whose wares are to booze as a Stradivarius is to violins. It morphed, however, into a blend of biography and meditation on any number of themes, including Southernness, or what musician Patterson Hood calls “the duality of the Southern Thing.” Though a progressive, Thompson admits to a tear in the eye when hearing “Dixie” at the Kentucky Derby. “Being Southern means carrying a responsibility to shake off the comforting blanket of myth and see ourselves clearly,” writes the author, a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi. There’s not much better a comforting blanket, if one with undeniable consequences if too frequently applied, than a good slug of bourbon. That takes Thompson deep into the history of American whiskey, stuff that blends art and science but that has few firm rules. As he notes, for instance, American whiskey can be made with whatever grain grows best in a given place; in Kentucky, that means corn. Van Winkle is as steeped in that history as anyone alive (he also knows his wine and other forms of adult beverage), and through his lens Thompson informs us about the hard work and heritage that goes into a bourbon well and truthfully made, such as the 23-year-old Pappy (about $300 per bottle) that serves as social lubricant and social glue among the cognoscenti. Thompson is well versed in the history himself, and, like Van Winkle, he is quick with a delightful and spot-on opinion—e.g., “vodka is for the skinny and scotch is for the strivers and bourbon is for the homesick.”

If you’re a fan of the magic that is an artful bourbon, this is just the book for you.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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