A graceful, sympathetic biography of an innovative American poet.

THE BEAUTY OF LIVING

E.E. CUMMINGS IN THE GREAT WAR

How outrage over brutality and violence informed a well-known poet's work.

British literary scholar Rosenblitt creates a perceptive, captivating portrait of the modernist Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), focusing on his early years and experience during World War I. Cummings, she argues persuasively, “remained a war poet until the end of his life. His sympathy with the smallest of creatures, and the beauty that he saw in the world, come out of the destruction that he saw during the war.” Cummings grew up in Massachusetts; his father, minister of Boston’s progressive South Congregational Church, was socially liberal but, within his family, “deeply authoritarian,” generating in his son a “suppressed rage and sense of failure” that led, increasingly, to personal and literary rebellion. At Harvard, cummings was drawn to “Decadence, classicism, Futurism, and poetry.” When war broke out, he volunteered as an ambulance driver in France, a decision that felt willful yet still one that his father would approve. “It was defiance without actual defiance,” Rosenblitt observes. Once in Paris, logistical problems left him and his friend William Brown at large for a month while they waited to be processed. During that time, he fell in love with Marie Louise Lallemand, a prostitute, which Rosenblitt characterizes as a deeply profound relationship. Cummings “clung to his love” for her “because to him she embodied everything about beauty and tragic nobility that would seem to give some romanticized meaning to war and death.” Shortly after beginning their service as ambulance drivers, on the basis of ill-considered letters, cummings and Brown were arrested for being German sympathizers. Through his father’s vociferous efforts, cummings was released after 3 months of imprisonment, an experience he chronicled in visceral detail in The Enormous Room. Besides insightful analyses of cummings’ poetry, Rosenblitt presents him as an accomplished artist, with 74 pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A graceful, sympathetic biography of an innovative American poet. (16 pages of illustrations)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-24696-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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