"THE HIGH COST OF LEAVING": Review of THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH by Jessica Mitford

"THE HIGH COST OF LEAVING": Review of THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH by Jessica Mitford

By now, in the 21st Century, is there any aspect of American life that hasn’t been touched by corruption? What shocked in 1963, when The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford’s exposé of the funeral industry in 20th Century America, was published, wouldn’t cause an American alive today to so much as bat an eyelash, so accustomed are we to shock and scandal. What will jolt us from our moral stupor?

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EIGHTY GREEN THUMBS: Review of LESSONS FROM THE GREAT GARDENERS: FORTY GARDENING ICONS & WHAT THEY TEACH US by Matthew Biggs

EIGHTY GREEN THUMBS: Review of LESSONS FROM THE GREAT GARDENERS: FORTY GARDENING ICONS & WHAT THEY TEACH US by Matthew Biggs

Lessons from the Great Gardeners: Forty Gardening Icons & What They Teach Us popped up, unbidden, in the Brooklyn Public Library’s online catalogue during a search for one of the gardeners profiled in its pages. It’s not the cheesy “lifestyle” book I was expecting, but a terrific primer on who matters in the gardening world, and why. The expertise of author Matthew Biggs comes through in his interesting, carefully chosen selections, and in his sensitive and intelligent writing.

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SUPERFANS ONLY NEED APPLY: Review of THE AMAZING STORY OF THE FANTASTICKS by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas

SUPERFANS ONLY NEED APPLY: Review of THE AMAZING STORY OF THE FANTASTICKS by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas

When I was in high school on Long Island in the 1990s, my dream was to be on Broadway. The idea then was to be a “triple-threat”—the best at singing, dancing, and acting. I had no idea how to go about this at all. I thought I could accomplish much in my room, alone, in secret. I scoured the pages of Backstage for auditions, and sent headshot photos with my meager resume stapled to the back. One listing was for a part I’d actually played in a regional theater, the role of the young romantic lead in a small, eight-person musical called The Fantasticks.

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ASK, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE: Review of LOVING WHAT IS: FOUR QUESTIONS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Byron Katie

ASK, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE: Review of LOVING WHAT IS: FOUR QUESTIONS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Byron Katie

The real mystery of Loving What Is is not its methodology, but its author. Who is Byron Katie? She was (and sometimes still is) a heavy smoker, calls people she doesn’t know “sweetheart” and “honey,” and sometimes writes and talks in a tone marked by exasperation: “Peace is who you already are, without a story. Can you just live it?”

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HOT TOWN, SUMMER IN THE CITY: Review of DANCER FROM THE DANCE by Andrew Holleran

HOT TOWN, SUMMER IN THE CITY: Review of DANCER FROM THE DANCE by Andrew Holleran

Andrew Holleran’s 1978 novel, Dancer From the Dance, is about gay men in 1970s New York looking for love—and falling for the city itself. The romantic, elegiac tone has much in common with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. All three of these stories meditate on the power of beauty, mystery, doom, glamour, summer, and romance. All three are narrated by characters that stand outside the main action, and all three feature New York City as a central character. The city as it’s depicted here is more than a place: it’s an idea, often a romantic ideal, and sometimes a trap.

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EBONY AND IVORY: Review of DOG YEARS: A MEMOIR by Mark Doty

EBONY AND IVORY: Review of DOG YEARS: A MEMOIR by Mark Doty

“To choose to live with a dog,” Mark Doty writes at the start of Dog Years: A Memoir, “is to agree to participate in a long process of interpretation—a mutual agreement, though the human being holds most of the cards.” In moving but restrained prose, Doty reveals the cards held closest to his chest: his feelings about loving and losing his canine companions, Arden and Beau.

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