The power of reading provides the emotional engine driving this insightful, profound, and heartfelt book.



An impassioned inquiry into the literary roots of Black culture.

Griffin, a Guggenheim fellow and inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University, delivers a glowing “series of meditations on the “fundamental questions of humanity, reality, politics, and art” by way of personal memoir and a thematic reading of Black literature, history, music, and art. The author begins by honoring her father, whose influential shadow looms large. Toni Morrison’s words, like her father’s, “shaped the way I saw and thought about the world.” Phillis Wheatley jump-started Griffin’s inquiry into the concept of mercy, also reflected in novels by Charles Chesnutt and Morrison’s A Mercy, which, like Wheatley’s poems, made her consider how writing might also be an “act of one’s will to be free.” In “Black Freedom and the Idea(l) of America” Griffin juxtaposes two giants of Black American history, Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama. Douglass “provided the ground from which Obama ascended,” and the former president’s Dreams From My Father demonstrated how Malcolm X informed his “understanding of Black nationalism.” Addressing the painful question of justice regarding slavery, racism, segregation, and mass incarceration, Griffin turns to Richard Wright, Ernest Gaines, and Morrison for answers. The author discusses the legacy of resistance via the works of the 19th-century abolitionist writer Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Toni Cade Bambara, whose works show “rage felt and expressed in disciplined emotions, organized and directed toward fighting injustice.” Reading Langston Hughes, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jesmyn Ward, Griffin ponders how “Black death haunts Black writing.” James Baldwin’s transformative fiction is “attentive to Black love,” while Black music “made of us a people.” Invoking Lorraine Hansberry’s “pioneering” A Raisin in the Sun, Griffin also meditates on the joys of gardening: “Even in the midst of crisis, the flowers bloom.” Throughout, like a mournful mantra, she calls their names: Trayvon, Breonna, George, and so many others.

The power of reading provides the emotional engine driving this insightful, profound, and heartfelt book.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-65190-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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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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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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