A nonessential entry in a crowded field.

QUARANTINE LIFE FROM CHOLERA TO COVID-19

WHAT PANDEMICS TEACH US ABOUT PARENTING, WORK, LIFE, AND COMMUNITIES FROM THE 1700S TO TODAY

A breezy take on plagues and peoples by a writer with a “disease fascination.”

Nixon, a professor of medical humanities, scans history to find support for a series of tweet-ish theses: “Listen. To. Women.” “Contagion is community.” “The kids are not all right.” There are worthy if obvious points throughout. The author, a mother of two, worries about when schools will reopen and what the benchmark for that will be: “And I mean an evidence-based benchmark, not simply a choice made because we’re tired of being careful.” She is also good at holding up a mirror to social norms that deserve to be remade, including our willingness to overlook the bad things of the world, including plagues and famine, as long as they’re not happening to us, and the American tendency to be driven by fear. On the latter point, Nixon rightly observes that if we are truly to be free of any risk of contracting a communicable disease, we’d need to lock ourselves in our houses, isolate, and spend our time sanitizing and overcooking everything in sight. “This sounds like a sad and hollow existence to me,” she observes—and never mind that several survivors of the 1918 influenza pandemic whom she quotes counsel modern-day plague navigators to do just that. Apart from a few witty notes on our history of “surviving plague after plague,” Nixon’s points have been addressed by many other writers in the current flood of pandemic-related literature, and her suggestion at the end that we all make nice with vaccine deniers and other enemies of common sense is cloying: “I’m convinced that the differences I see on the surface are red herrings meant to divide us, to distract us from the ways we could be banding together.” Peace and love are all well and good, but even better is a shot in the arm.

A nonessential entry in a crowded field.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982172-46-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Tiller Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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