Memorable reflections on writing and life from an author who pulls no punches.

INDIGO

ARM WRESTLING, SNAKE SAVING, AND SOME THINGS IN BETWEEN

After six novels and three story collections, Powell gathers his magazine articles and other short works in his first book of nonfiction.

In 2018, Powell, a professor emeritus of creative writing at the University of Florida, said that he had quit writing, and this book suggests he meant it—all of the pieces were written before 2019 and all but one previously published or delivered at literary events. Yet if this volume collects exhumed work, it has no air of mothballs about it. In a generous foreword, Pete Dexter rightly says of the entries: “They move like stories, carry the same expectations, they end like stories.” Powell’s intersecting preoccupations are the South—its art, music, food, wildlife, and literature—and the demands of writing fiction. Befitting those interests, he includes appreciations of his teacher Donald Barthelme and others he’s known or admired from afar: artist William Wegman; writers Grace Paley, Peter Taylor, Denis Johnson, William Trevor, and Flannery O’Connor; and Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins, with whom he attended junior high in Jacksonville. Standout articles describe Powell’s visits to a world arm-wrestling championship in Sweden and his quest to see “one of the free world’s last indigo snakes” in the wild amid the longleaf pines of Florida and southern Georgia. Elsewhere, he derides “craft books” full of “bloviations” on literary grails such as “round characters and flat characters; backstory; rising action, climax, denouement,” and “the bastardizing of telling versus the apotheosis of showing, hands down the largest bogosity of them all; and the existence of the necessary inevitable, which necessarily cannot be anticipated before its inevitability becomes apparent.” Some writers will see those words as blasphemous, but others will cheer the rare full-frontal assault on MFA program orthodoxies. Either way, if Powell has stopped writing, he’s going out swinging with a fine left hook.

Memorable reflections on writing and life from an author who pulls no punches.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64622-005-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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

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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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