A surprisingly poignant portrait of the artist as a young to middle-aged man.

THEFT BY FINDING

DIARIES (1977-2002)

Raw glimpses of the humorist’s personal life as he clambered from starving artist to household name.

For years, Sedaris (Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, 2013, etc.) has peppered his public readings with samples from his diaries, usually comic vignettes with a gently skewed view of humanity. Those are in abundance here. “Jews in concentration camps had shaved heads and tattoos,” he writes after learning about a Chicago skinhead’s arrest. “You’d think the anti-Semites would go for a different look.” Forced to trim his toenails with poultry shears for lack of clippers, he writes, “that is exactly why you don’t want people staying in your apartment when you’re not there, or even when you are, really.” The diaries also provide Ur-texts for some of the author’s most famous stories, like his stint as a Macy’s Christmas elf that led to his breakthrough radio piece, “The SantaLand Diaries,” or the short-tempered, chalk-throwing French teacher in Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). But though the mood is usually light, the book is also a more serious look into his travails as an artist and person: Sedaris is candid about his early ambitions to succeed as a writer, his imposter syndrome as a teacher, his squabbles with his never-satisfied dad and mentally ill sister, Tiffany, and his alcoholism. Even that last challenge, though, is framed as comic, or at least the stuff of non sequitur: “Today I saw a one-armed dwarf carrying a skateboard. It’s been ninety days since I’ve had a drink.” While Sedaris’ career took flight during the period this book captures, success didn’t change him much; it just introduced him to a broader swath of the world to observe and satirize. He can hardly believe his good luck, so he’s charmed by the woman who, upon escorting him to a packed bookstore reading, exclaims, “goodness, they must be having a sale.”

A surprisingly poignant portrait of the artist as a young to middle-aged man.

Pub Date: May 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-15472-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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