A comforting work of art in troubled times.

AMERICAN UTOPIA

The companion volume to the author’s acclaimed Broadway production of the same name.

Conceived before the pandemic, Byrne’s collaboration with New Yorker illustrator Kalman proceeds through a series of sparsely rendered full-color images about connection and how it feels to be together even when we are each alone. The author opens with what seems like a statement of purpose: “Despite all that has happened, despite all that is still happening, I think there is still possibility—we are still a work in progress. We’re not fixed, our brains can change. Who we are thankfully extends beyond ourselves...to the connections between all of us.” It’s a slim, suggestive volume, with sparing use of words amid the stark imagery. At times, it feels like Byrne is channeling the aphoristic, sloganeering spirit of Truisms, the shifting-viewpoint series of maxims by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. “I’m not alone and we’re all the same, and the world won’t end, it will just change its name,” reads the accompaniment to two drawings of a woman who appears to be very much alone, dancing. “We’re only tourists in this life,” says another. Taken together, all of the text would likely fit on one page, and the sketches can be flipped through in a matter of minutes. The book is not a substitute for Byrne’s music or the Broadway musical—which is scheduled to return in September and will soon become a documentary by Spike Lee—but it does share the same sense of artistic daring, naiveté, and childlike wonder. “Here is an area of great confusion / No more information now / This is my job,” reads a simple haikulike passage that accompanies a series of seemingly unconnected drawings that proceed to the assurance, “It is safe right where you are.”

A comforting work of art in troubled times.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-668-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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

A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

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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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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