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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Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

IS THIS ANYTHING?

“All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.” So writes Seinfeld in this pleasing collection of sketches from across his four-decade career.

Known for his wry, observational humor, Seinfeld has largely avoided profanity and dirty jokes and has kept politics out of the equation. Like other schooled jokesters, perhaps most famously Bob Hope, he keeps a huge library of gags stockpiled, ever fearful of that day when the jokes will run out or the emcee will call you back for another set. “For the most part, it was the people who killed themselves to keep coming up with great new material who were able to keep rising through the many levels,” he recounts of his initiation into the New York stand-up scene. Not all his early material played well. The first piece in this collection, laid out sentence by sentence as if for a teleprompter, is a bit about being left-handed, which comes with negative baggage: “Two left feet. / Left-handed compliment. / Bad ideas are always ‘out of left field.’ / What are we having for dinner? / Leftovers.” He gets better, and quickly, as when he muses on the tininess of airplane bathrooms: “And a little slot for used razor blades. Who is shaving on the plane? And shaving so much, they’re using up razor blades. Is the Wolfman flying in there?” For the most part, the author’s style is built on absurdities: “Why does water ruin leather? / Aren’t cows outside a lot of the time?” It’s also affable, with rare exceptions, as when, taking on a mob boss persona, he threatens a child with breaking the youngster’s Play-Doh creations: “Nothing wrong with sending your child a little Sicilian message once in a while.” One wishes there were more craft notes among the gags, but the ones that are there are both inspiring and gnomic: “Stand-up is about a brief, fleeting moment of human connection.”

Fans of Seinfeld will eat this up, and aspiring comics will want to study how he shapes his seemingly effortless humor.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982112-69-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A palimpsestic, personal, and resonant journey with a living musical encyclopedia.

MUSIC IS HISTORY

The iconic drummer, composer, and DJ tracks modern American history through music and vice versa.

Each chapter focuses on a specific year, beginning with 1971, when Questlove was born, and is structured around “a song that represents some idea connected to history: how it was experienced at the time, or how it is learned and understood, or what figures surface within it, or how different versions of it are reconciled, or how they cannot be.” Interspersed throughout are lists of songs—and the author’s commentary on each—divided into categories—e.g., songs worthy of being reinstated into communal memory; and hip-hop “deep cuts that…need to be excavated”; and songs in E minor, a key that “isn’t just a way of life for funk songs, but a world unto itself. In grappling with the mass of E-minor songs, I have divided the E-minor theme into two camps, the songs that get over and the songs that under­whelm.” Questlove also revisits songs by other artists on which he played drums. The scope of the book, like the author’s vinyl collection, is enormous, yet his tone makes for a fascinating, page-turning read. Whether he’s making a case that hip-hop was “at least in part a direct reaction to disco” or describing Bill Withers as his first true idol, Questlove makes for an engaging, dynamic narrator—just as he was in his excellent memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues (2013). Events, he writes, “can feel like closed boxes until we find our way in….And that’s why I decided to put ‘Does Everyone Stare’ [by The Police] not in 1979, the year it came out, but in 1981, the year it came out to me.” The author adds private stories such as the day, in 1993, when the Roots were signed by Geffen and his mother told him she was divorcing his father. From explicating protest songs to sampling, Questlove continuously encourages readers to cross-reference historical happenings and to read (and think) critically.

A palimpsestic, personal, and resonant journey with a living musical encyclopedia.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-5143-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Abrams Image

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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