An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.

HORIZONTAL VERTIGO

A CITY CALLED MEXICO

A deeply learned appreciation of the author’s native Mexico City.

Trained as a sociologist but well known to Spanish-speaking readers as one of Mexico’s most acclaimed novelists, Villoro writes appreciatively of a city that is constantly changing—and whose landmarks are different for each generation, if they haven’t been torn down in the course of rebuilding or destroyed by earthquakes. For him, the “outstanding sign of the times is the Latin American Tower,” built in 1956, the year of the author’s birth, and then one of the rare buildings in Mexico City to be more than a few stories tall, since the plateau on which the city sits is both tectonically active and so sandy that building collapse is a real danger. In his lifetime, Villoro notes, the territory embraced by the city megalopolis “has spread out like wildfire” and “grown seven hundred times.” Growth, he adds, “meant spread,” so much so that to find Villoro’s house, located on a street named for the revolutionary figure Carranza, you would have to know which one of 412 streets and avenues named for Carranza it was on. Natural and cultural landmarks are matters of memory and nostalgia, he writes, and since “Mexico-Tenochtitlán buried its lake, and the smog blotted out the volcanoes,” there are few points of orientation. As such, memory has to make up for the destruction of the environment. Along his leisurely, illuminating path, Villoro delivers an essential update of Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). He can be both brittle and funny, as when he dissects the overstaffed and bureaucratized retail sector. “Although overpopulation is one of our specialties,” he writes, “we have an abundance of stores where there are few customers and an excessive number of workers,” one of whom, the manager, serves as “a final potentate, a Chinese emperor in his Forbidden City.” Celebrating food, wandering through earthquake-struck ruins, reflecting on literary heroes, Villoro makes an excellent Virgil.

An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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