A memoir of coming to terms that’s written with masterful control of both style and material.

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HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES

A MEMOIR

A coming-of-age memoir marks the emergence of a major literary voice.

A prizewinning poet, Jones (Prelude to Bruise, 2014) tends less toward flights of poetic fancy and more toward understated, matter-of-fact prose, all the more powerful because the style never distracts from the weight of the story: the sexual awakening and struggle for identity of a young black man raised in Texas by a single mother, a Buddhist, who herself was the daughter of an evangelical Christian. He and his mother were both damned to hell, according to his grandmother, who nonetheless loved both of them. There is a lot of subtlety in these familial relations: the son not willing to recognize the implications of his loving mother’s heart condition, the mother struggling with her son’s sexuality. The “fight” in the title is partly about the fight with society at large, but it is mainly about the fight within the author himself. “I made myself a promise,” he writes. “Even if it meant becoming a stranger to my loved ones, even if it meant keeping secrets, I would have a life of my own.” Jones documents the price he paid for those secrets, including the shame that accompanied his discoveries of self and sexuality. “Standing in front of the mirror,” he writes, “my reflection and I were like rival animals, just moments away from tearing each other limb from limb.” One of them was the loving son and accomplished student; the other, a young man drawn toward denigrating and debilitating sexual encounters, devoid of love, with white men who objectified him as black and even with straight men. One almost killed him and made him feel like this is what he deserved. “This is that I thought it meant to be a man fighting for his life,” writes Jones. “If America was going to hate me for being black and gay, then I might as well make a weapon out of myself.”

A memoir of coming to terms that’s written with masterful control of both style and material.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3273-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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