For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

CRANIAL FRACKING

A short, bumpy ride through the humorist’s dry, deadpan sensibilities.

Perhaps it’s comparing almonds to walnuts, but Frazier’s latest, a hit-and-miss foray into absurdist humor, is not in the class of his much-admired travel books. The author makes a few penetrating satirical stabs at contemporary follies and offers spasms of cleverness, yet too many of the three-page ditties are like underinflated balloons that fizzle out, and the savagely funny pieces only serve to underscore the collection’s overall unevenness. However, the idea of climate change in Hades (“The Temperature of Hell: A Colloquium”) is certainly delicious, and “In My Defense,” a survey of assorted heresies perpetrated by a scoutmaster who has lost his faith, is amusingly clever. There’s also a wry Shakespearean parody on the rigors of parking thy horse and some chuckles to be had with the title piece, in which Frazier sells the extraction rights to vast reserves of natural gas found in his head. When he is critiquing artificial intelligence or advocating for mummies in what is otherwise a golden age of zombies, the theater of the absurd is taken to brave new worlds—consider Jane Austen, “who featured zombies in all her exquisitely wrought nineteenth-century comedies of manners.” One can’t deny that great opening lines like, “I was walking down the street one afternoon, when I suddenly lost funding” belong in a pantheon of sorts, and the idea of Victor Laszlo writing a blog is amusing. Some may cock an eyebrow at the slyly witty “The British Museum of Your Stuff,” wherein larceny and scholarship go hand in hand, or enjoy Frazier’s exercise in anti-travel planning. But there are also plenty of misses, including “Etymology of Some Common Typos,” making this a minor work in the author’s oeuvre. For more substantial essay-length pieces, check out Hogs Wild (2017).

For Frazier fans. His style of badinage remains an acquired taste that not everyone may wish to acquire.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60307-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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