Warm, generous, and inspirational: a book for everyone.

BETTER, NOT BITTER

LIVING ON PURPOSE IN THE PURSUIT OF RACIAL JUSTICE

One of the wrongly accused and imprisoned Central Park Five recounts his experiences with an unjust system of justice.

Salaam was just 15 when he “was run over by the spiked wheels of justice.” That collision came when he was accused, along with four other teenagers, of raping a young woman in New York’s Central Park and leaving her for dead. Tried as a juvenile, he was sent into adult custody at Rikers Island, “a notoriously violent prison from which many men never returned,” before being shifted in and out of other institutions. In 2002, following a jailhouse confession by the actual attacker, the convictions were overturned. Inside the system, taking a cue from Malcolm X, Salaam accepted the fact that “it’s often incumbent upon the person to educate him- or herself while inside.” He completed high school and earned an associate’s degree, building on his enrollment in the LaGuardia High School of Music and Art when he was only 12. “They have created cages in order to create animals so they’ll have an excuse to create more cages,” writes the author. “But we all have the power to blossom behind those bars.” Sadly, as he notes, whereas he had the support of a loving and attentive mother, many other imprisoned people have no social network. One of the Five, unable to find work and adjust to life outside, returned to prison. Punctuating his prose with memorable images (“Fear was playing Double Dutch with my mind”), Salaam denounces a system of injustice built on the backs of Black people, demonized as born criminals. Remarkably, though Donald Trump himself made his first foray into politics on the backs of the Five, the author mentions him by name just once in a book rich in self-knowledge and compassion. “As the alchemist of your life,” he writes, “you have control over the choices you make on this journey….But no matter what, you can be free.”

Warm, generous, and inspirational: a book for everyone.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-0500-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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