Monk, Katherine. Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell. Greystone. 2012. 320p. photogs. ISBN 9781553658375. pap. $18.95. music
Biographies of Joni Mitchell are attempted every few years, but the definitive one will have to wait until the singer-songwriter tells her own story. In the meantime, Monk’s (Weird Sex & Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena) is the closest thing to essential reading. She describes her book as a “rambling adventure into the creative soul,” and it follows Mitchell’s path to popular and critical success as well as her self-imposed exile from that success, while frankly addressing the highs and lows of her career and personal life. One intriguing aspect of the book is Monk’s pursuit of a kind of Mitchell-approved reading list (because of her subject’s own interest in philosophy). Monk uses Martin Heidegger, Joseph Campbell, and especially Friedrich Nietzsche to tell Mitchell’s story and shape the narrative of her creative odyssey. VERDICT Monk’s own personality frequently surfaces, and it’s noteworthy that the last two major books on Mitchell—this and Michelle Mercer’s Will You Take Me as I Am—each fuse factual information with a strong authorial presence; it speaks to the impact Mitchell’s music can have on an individual and makes for an engaging narrative. This unique and thoughtful biography is recommended for all fans of Joni Mitchell.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA
Robb, John. Punk Rock: An Oral History. PM. 2012. 562p. index. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781604860054. pap. $19.95. music
Longtime music journalist and founding member of The Membranes Robb ( Death to Trad Rock ) has collected the stories of over 100 eyewitnesses to the birth of British punk. From icons like John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Mick Jones (The Clash) to lesser-known but no less outspoken musicians, managers, promoters, and fans, the interviewees bring a wide range of viewpoints to their tales of the scene’s development. In scope and format, Robb covers much the same ground as Jon Savage’s 2010 collection of interviews, The England’s Dreaming Tapes. From an editorial perspective, however, the difference between the two works is striking. While Savage presented his transcripts in their entirety, Robb uses a cut-and-paste chronological arrangement, grouping together several subjects’ takes on a given event or band. These multiple, often conflicting voices, together with the cheeky footnotes that clarify certain obscure references or blatant misrememberings, add a level of wit and chaotic energy to this book not present in earlier oral histories of the era. VERDICT With its brilliant balance of in-depth information and accessibility, this title will be equally at home on academic, public, and personal library shelves. Essential for punk fans and highly recommended for readers interested in firsthand accounts of the growth of new cultural movements.—Neil Derksen, Snohomish, WA
Armantrout, Rae. Just Saying. Wesleyan Univ. Feb. 2013. 112p. ISBN 9780819572998. $22.95. Poetry
It’s surprising how much jagged energy courses through the typically spare, distilled poems in this latest book by Armantrout, a distinguished poet who finally, deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for 2009’s Versed. From violins coursing downward and monomaniacal hummingbirds, to “fire in a cage,/ gnawing on wood” and “bushes/ flowering furiously,” to the poet herself “practic[ing] high speed de-/ selection,” energy—veering up, gearing down, ever driving us forward—is Armantrout’s very subject. That, and the balance we strike as we are buffeted about between beginning and end (“The difference// between nothing/ and nothingness// is existence”). Being “balanced,” though, is something achieved only through constant readjustment, redefinition, de-selection (it’s also the solid-as-rock, one-word closing line of the poem “Subdivision”). Life darts restlessly about: “This train of thought/ is not a train,// but a tendril,/ blind”; one poem even ends open-endedly with the lines “slim trunks bend/ every which”. It’s all very refreshing, even, dare one say, energizing. VERDICT Armantrout is sometimes accused of being inscrutable, but these terse, innocent-looking poems deliver scary insight. Highly recommended.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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The following titles are reviewed in the November 1 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
1000 Tips by 100 Eco Architects: Guidelines on Sustainable Architecture from the World’s Leading Eco-Architecture Firms. Firefly. 2012. 320p. photogs. ed. by Marta Serrats. ISBN 9781770850415. $39.95. arch
Richardson, David & Sue Richardson. Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta. Prestel. 2012. 470p. illus. maps. bibliog. ISBN 9783791347387. $160. fine arts
Silver, Cameron. Decades: A Century of Fashion. Bloomsbury. 2012. 247p. illus. ISBN 9781596916630. $60.00. DEC ARTS
Fox, Robin. Shakespeare’s Education: Schools, Lawsuits, Theater, and the Tudor Miracle. Laugwitz Verlag, dist. by Elizabethan Review. 2012. 182p. bibliog. ISBN 9783933077301. pap. $14.99. DRAMA
Rollyson, Carl. American Isis: The Life and Art of Sylvia Plath. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. 336p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780312640248. $29.99. LIT
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir. Pantheon. 2012. 256p. photos. ISBN 9780307907691. $25.95. lit
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. The Annotated Frankenstein. Belknap: Harvard Univ. Pr. 2012. 400p. ed. by Susan J. Wolfson & Ronald Levao. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674055520. $29.95. lit
Roberts, David. Rock Chronicles: Every Legend, Every Line-Up, Every Look. Firefly. 2012. 576p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781770851177. pap. $29.95. music
Badiou, Alain. Plato’s Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters. Columbia Univ. Dec. 2012. 400p. tr. from French by Susan Spitzer. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780231160162. $35.00. phil
Cohen, Randy. Be Good: How To Navigate the Ethics of Everything. Chronicle. 2012. 318p. ISBN 9781452107905. $24.95. phil
Spencer, F. Scott. Salty Wives, Spirited Mothers, and Savvy Widows: Capable Women of Purpose and Persistence in Luke’s Gospel. Eerdmans. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780802867629. $30. rel
Wills, Garry. Why Priests?: The Real Meaning of the Eucharist. Viking: Penguin Group USA. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670024872. $27.95. rel
SPORTS & RECREATION
The Best American Sports Writing 2012. Mariner. 2012. 320p. ed. by Michael Wilbon. ISBN 9780547336978. pap. $14.95. sports
Surdam, David George. The Rise of the National Basketball Association. Univ. of Illinois. 2012. 254p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252037139. $85. ISBN 9780252078668. pap. $25. sports