Jay-Z deserves an in-depth study. This is not it.

JAY-Z

MADE IN AMERICA

The celebrated public intellectual offers a slim volume on an American musical icon.

For readers who only know Jay-Z as Beyoncé’s husband, the latest by Dyson (What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America, 2018, etc.) is a serviceable primer. However, for readers familiar with Jay-Z’s music or role in popular culture, this brief book has little to offer. The publication coincides with the rapper’s 50th birthday, and it reads as if it was rushed to make the date. The chapters are disorganized and consist largely of riffs that have often tangential connections to his life or work. Dyson’s interests are wide-ranging, and some of his digressions are worthwhile in their own right. Ultimately, though, there’s too much filler in a book that needed more material. It’s no surprise that many of the tangents rehash older writings for which the author is already well known, and he also engages in excessive name-dropping, cringeworthy poetic affectations, and an attitude that sometimes feels condescending to readers and to hip-hop culture. In a long section on the late Nipsey Hussle, Dyson describes a time he sat by the rapper on a flight. As the two men “had an epic conversation,” Nipsey “brought up the psychologist Abraham Maslow.” This is a typical non sequitur meant to suggest to readers that Nipsey is worthy of our consideration because he is intelligent. The author frequently uses the same approach with Jay-Z, noting, for example, that the rapper uses many of the poetic devices employed by Robert Frost, Rita Dove, and other poets; of course, countless rappers use the same tactics. Dyson is usually far more insightful that this, and readers should turn to Julius Bailey’s Jay-Z: Essays on Hip Hop’s Philosopher King or Jay-Z’s own book, Decoded, a masterpiece of music memoir. Pharrell contributes the foreword.

Jay-Z deserves an in-depth study. This is not it.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-23096-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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