Throughout, Camus’ talent, humor, and passion glisten like rare jewels.

COMMITTED WRITINGS

A focused collection of the political and moral writings and speeches by the Nobel laureate.

After a fresh foreword by Camus scholar Alice Kaplan, the compilation begins with four letters Camus (1913-1960) published during World War II, purportedly to a German he knew but who is likely the author’s creation. The letters assail the Germans for what they have done—and continue to do—with fierce candor: “violence is more natural to you than thinking”; “you scorned knowledge and spoke only of strength.” The longest piece is “Reflections on the Guillotine” (1957), which describes and condemns capital punishment, employing logic, passion, grim detail, and skillful prose. Camus begins with his father’s vomiting after witnessing a beheading; later, he includes a horrible description of another beheading gone wrong. The author argues that capital punishment is not punishment but “revenge” and includes comments about how the death penalty is related to religious history. The volume concludes with two speeches related to the author’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize in literature. The first is the official speech he gave at the ceremony in Stockholm; the second, a lecture he delivered at Uppsala University. In the first, Camus is humble and grateful and talks passionately about the significance of his art in his life. The second explores the idea of realism in literature—and how absolute realism is impossible. It would require, he writes amusingly, the author to devote their life to following the entire life of another. Camus is also playful with the old metaphor of the broken eggs and the omelet: You don’t need to break thousands of them to make one omelet. The author ends by saying that truth should be the aim of the artist.

Throughout, Camus’ talent, humor, and passion glisten like rare jewels.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56719-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

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THE BEST OF ME

A welcome greatest-hits package from Sedaris.

It’s not easy to pick out fact from fiction in the author’s sidelong takes on family, travel, relationships, and other topics. He tends toward the archly droll in either genre, both well represented in this gathering, always with a perfectly formed crystallization of our various embarrassments and discomforts. An example is a set piece that comes fairly early in the anthology: the achingly funny “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” with its spot-on reminiscence of taking a French class with a disdainful instructor, a roomful of clueless but cheerful students, and Sedaris himself, who mangles the language gloriously, finally coming to understand his teacher’s baleful utterances (“Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section”) without being able to reply in any way that does not destroy the language of Voltaire and Proust. Sedaris’ register ranges from doggerel to deeply soulful, as when he reflects on the death of a beloved sibling and its effects on a family that has been too often portrayed as dysfunctional when it’s really just odd: “The word,” he writes, “is overused….My father hoarding food inside my sister’s vagina would be dysfunctional. His hoarding it beneath the bathroom sink, as he is wont to do, is, at best, quirky and at worst unsanitary.” There’s not a dud in the mix, though Sedaris is always at his best when he’s both making fun of himself and satirizing some larger social trend (of dog-crazy people, for instance: “They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, ‘A black Lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe’ ”). It’s a lovely mélange by a modern Mark Twain who is always willing to set himself up as a shlemiel in the interest of a good yarn.

One of the funniest—and truest—books in recent memory and a must-have for fans of the poet laureate of human foibles.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-62824-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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