A dynamic, unflinchingly candid examination of the impacts of race and class on culture and the author’s own life.

CONSTRUCTING A NERVOUS SYSTEM

A MEMOIR

The Pulitzer Prize–winning critic and memoirist returns with an inspired and unstinting examination of American class, culture, and personal memory.

Jefferson, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her memoir, Negroland, moves beyond autobiography into a deeper excavation of music, literature, and personal memory, examining her role in American culture as both the influenced and the influencer. In Negroland, the author revealed the burdens of membership in a class of ambitious Black Americans, and she further details the impact on their children: “You were always calculating—not always well—how to achieve; succeed as a symbol and a self.” Jefferson escaped into music and literature, finding artists who helped her move beyond rigid family expectations. Among the musicians she praises are Billy Eckstine, Johnny Hartman, Bobby Short, Andy Bey, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and Ike Turner. Jefferson also pays fervent tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, whose incendiary talent flowered despite abuse, neglect, and immersion in a brutally competitive musical culture. Upon first meeting her, bandleader Chick Webb dismissed Fitzgerald as “too ugly.” Three years later, Fitzgerald’s rendition of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” propelled Webb’s band to the top of the charts. Jefferson brilliantly deconstructs Fitzgerald’s version of that tune and how it echoed the singer’s terrible years in an orphanage, and the author’s fire for “the redemptive tumult of the ’50s and ’60s” is palpable. A chapter about her disenchantment with Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark due to its homage to White superiority is tinged with academese, and her meditation on Josephine Baker has a more distanced, elegiac feel and is weighed down by too many quotes. Nonetheless, Jefferson’s unique perspective and relentless honesty and self-examination ensure that there’s something worthwhile on every page. Devotees of Negroland will want to continue the dialogue with this top-notch writer.

A dynamic, unflinchingly candid examination of the impacts of race and class on culture and the author’s own life.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4817-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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