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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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 slender, highly satisfying collection.

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LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I MEAN

A dozen pieces of nonfiction from the acclaimed novelist, memoirist, and screenwriter.

In an appreciative introduction, New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als praises Didion as “a carver of words in the granite of the specific.” Stylistic precision (“Grammar is a piano I play by ear,” she writes) and the “energy and shimmer” of her prose are fully evident in this volume of previously uncollected pieces, written from 1968 to 2000. Although Didion portrays herself as a diffident, unconfident writer as a college student, she learned “a kind of ease with words” when working at Vogue, where she was assigned to write punchy, concise copy. The experience, she recalls, was “not unlike training with the Rockettes.” Several pieces were originally published in magazines, and two were introductions: one, to a volume of photography by Robert Mapplethorpe; another, to a memoir by director—and Didion’s friend—Tony Richardson. All reveal the author’s shrewd, acerbic critical eye. In “Getting Serenity,” she reports on a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous, where, she notes sardonically, one woman “adapted her mode of public address from analgesic commercials.” William Randolph Hearst’s “phantasmagoric barony,” San Simeon, “seemed to confirm the boundless promise of the place we lived,” but, she decided, was best admired from afar, like a fairy-tale castle, “floating fantastically.” Didion’s rejection from Stanford elicited an essay about college as consumption, and her skewering of consumption and artifice recur as themes—for example, in her observation of the ways women stage themselves for portrait photographs. Several particularly revealing essays focus on writing: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking,” she famously admitted, a statement often misattributed to others. Writing, for her, is “the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act.” As these pieces show, it’s also an accomplished act of seduction.

A slender, highly satisfying collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31848-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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