A short account that paints a thorough and vivid portrait of one man’s American life.

MORE THAN ONE WAY HOME

A memoir chronicles a teacher’s youth in the Midwest and his struggles as an adult.

Debut author Baxter was born in 1948 in Kansas. His childhood was a happy one, thanks in no small part to his grandmother Younkin. Grandma was a retired English teacher with a fondness for literature, rocking chairs, and canasta. The book encompasses a number of vignettes from the author’s younger days, including the time in 1956 that his father caught him stealing hubcaps from car tires and how in 1965 he participated in a prank involving potassium from a chemistry class. He met his wife as a freshman at the University of Kansas. He eventually decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandmother and became a high school English teacher. The career path was not always easy. The author learned the hard way that his own love of books would not carry over to his students through “osmosis.” Recollections from the author’s adult years become more fraught. He writes of how, in retrospect, he always felt a separation from his mother, asserting: “I know I was loved, but it was from a distance.” He became overweight. At one of his children’s soccer games, a man in a NASCAR hat called him “fatty.” He explained to his therapist that he had the feeling of a kind of black hole overtaking him. And then there was the death of his first son, Jordan, in infancy. The author explains how “the memory of Jordan’s short life still fills my eyes with a juxtaposition of smiles and tears.” It is just such a juxtaposition that is at the heart of this slender volume (under 100 pages). The book consists of chapters that are rarely more than a few pages long. Readers get an inkling of some of Baxter’s worst and best times without too much lingering on either category. The outcome is certainly a breezy read, though some points could have used greater elaboration. For instance, the author mentions being a teacher in 1999 at the time of the Columbine High School shootings. Although the senselessness of the event disturbed him in obvious ways, it would have been informative to learn more. What was the discussion like in his workplace? What did he tell his students? Were his fellow teachers worried? Nevertheless, the memoir’s brevity is also a wonderful asset. No words are wasted on complicated family origin stories, minor triumphs that do not translate well on the page (for example, a promotion at work), or other miscellaneous events that would be of limited interest to readers. The audience is instead given choice segments of Baxter’s very personal experiences. The author points out that “humanity resides in minute details,” and it is just such specifics that fill the pages without overburdening them.  

A short account that paints a thorough and vivid portrait of one man’s American life.    

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4809-5001-6

Page Count: 86

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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