Week ending November 8, 2013
Alsup, Allison & others. The French Quarter Drinking Companion. Pelican. 2013. 272p. photos. index. ISBN 9781455618156. pap. $22.95; ebk ISBN 9781455618163. TRAV
From shooter girls to Sazeracs to daiquiri machines, this little gem of a book provides exactly what it says it does: a drinking companion to New Orleans’s French Quarter. Self-described tipplers, Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce, and Richard Read provide an entertaining overview and description of their visits to drinking establishments in the Quarter. One hundred bars are categorized as “Iconic,” “Bourbon Street,” “Live Music,” “Neighborhood,” “High-brow,” “Dive,” “LGBT,” “Hipster,” “Hotel,” and “Other.” The two- to three-page entries are to the point, outlining what you’re swilling, wearing, and hearing and who your drinking buddies are—locals, tourists, dates, hip relations, conventioneers, you name it. There are a few photographs throughout and a bar name index. A map might have been a great addition, but each entry provides an address, phone, and website if available, to help get you where you need to go.
Verdict A highly enjoyable niche guide; for folks who are traveling to New Orleans and plan on drinking, this is the ticket.—Louise Feldmann, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins
Cott, Jonathan. Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview. Yale Univ. 2013. 176p. index. ISBN 9780300189797. $26. LIT
In 1978, on two separate occasions (June/November) and in two very different locales (Paris/New York), Cott (Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein) interviewed National Book Award–winning American writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag (1933–2004) for Rolling Stone magazine. These interviews comprise 12 hours of discussion, but only a third of these conversations originally appeared in the October 4, 1979, issue. This book includes the entire interview transcript. Cott knew Sontag since his college years in the early 1960s. In the preface to this work, he provides an exciting overview of Sontag’s life, her major works, and the numerous interactions he had with her before and after these interviews took place. Cott describes Sontag’s interview style as measured and expansive paragraphs, which the text of these interviews confirms. The discussion falls to a variety of topics including Sontag’s battle with breast cancer, her writings, East Coast vs. West Coast mentalities, rock and roll’s influence, sexuality, Nietzsche, French feminists, and the joy of reading. This riveting work would have been made even more interesting if Cott had included the reaction of Rolling Stone readers to the original material.
Verdict This fascinating interview will appeal to anyone interested in Sontag, literature, and American culture and society.—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA
Deseine, Trish (text) & Christian Sarramon (photos). The Paris Gourmet. Flammarion. (Chic Lifestyle). 2013. 208p. photos. index. ISBN 9782080201560. pap. $34.95. HOME ECON
Deseine is Irish but has lived in Paris for 25 years and has written numerous French cookbooks (Ma petite robe noire et autres recettes). She now writes about her favorite local bakeries, patisseries, butchers, wine and cheese shops, cafés, and bistros. For each entry, Deseine briefly describes the establishment and provides its address, including arrondissement, telephone number, and website. She also recommends items for a Parisian pantry and suggests kitchen stores and markets. The book has a pleasing visual design and features beautiful color photographs by Sarramon that range in size from 1/16 of a page to a full page. There are menus and recipes for a Parisian brunch, a “festive meal,” and hors d’oeuvres. The instructions are easy to follow, with metric measurements as well as those for U.S. readers, though they do not indicate how many servings for each dish.
Verdict This title will be enjoyed by visiting tourists, those living in the City of Light, and armchair travelers.—Christine E. Bulson, emeritus, Milne Lib., SUNY Oneonta
Hłasko, Marek. Beautiful Twentysomethings. Northern Illinois Univ. 2013. 224p. tr. from Polish by Ross Ufberg. ISBN 9780875804774. $35; pap. ISBN 9780875806976. $19.95. LIT
Hłasko (1934–69) is hardly a household name, even among those familiar with eastern European fiction. He belonged to a generation of Polish writers and artists who, once freed from Hitler’s rule, would adhere to the iron fist of communism; they never knew a time when art was free of government pressure. Hłasko lost favor with the Polish authorities when he tried to publish an anticommunist novel and fled the country in 1958. His life after was a decade-long fall from grace. He died at 35, leaving behind some fiction and this memoir, written in 1964, depicting his life up to that point. Hłasko’s narrative echoes the American noir he so admired, but his tough-guy pose fails to disguise the picture it paints of a life in slow decline. The prose is hit-or-miss, but the best parts—acid-tongued portraits of other artists who crossed him and representations of the Polish art scene in the late 1950s—are worth the price of the book.
Verdict This no-warts-hidden depiction of a doomed man of considerable talents should have enhanced appeal for those who follow the course of eastern European literature.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Jim Crow, Literature, and the Legacy of Sutton E. Griggs. Univ. of Georgia. (New Southern Studies). 2013. 320p. ed. by Tess Chakkalakal & Kenneth W. Warren. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780820340326. $79.95; pap. ISBN 9780820345987. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780820346304. LIT
Editors Chakkalakal (Africana studies & English, Bowdoin Coll.; Novel Bondage) and Warren (Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor, English, Univ. of Chicago; What Was African American Literature?) here collect ten essays that chronologically examine the life, work, and legacy of African American writer, Baptist minister, newspaper editor, political and civil rights activist, and son of a former slave Sutton Elbert Griggs (1872–1933). Perhaps not as widely known as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Chesnutt, or many other African American intellectuals and writers who challenged the social status quo, Griggs wrote five novels in less than a decade—beginning with Imperium in Imperio in 1899—that were among the first to take head-on issues of race and violence in the Jim Crow South. The editors write in their painstaking biographical and contextual introduction that Griggs is impossible to ignore.
Verdict This academic collection reintroduces (along with Finnie D. Coleman’s Sutton E. Griggs and the Struggle Against White Supremacy and Randolph Meade Walker’s The Metamorphosis of Sutton E. Griggs) the work of an important, influential, and neglected figure in African American letters and social thought and would reward any serious reader interested in literature and the history of race relations in the South at the turn of the 20th century.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Barron’s. 2013. 960p. ed. by Steven Jay Schneider & Ian Haydn Smith. photos. index. ISBN 9780764166136. $35. FILM
Roger Ebert said a critic’s job isn’t to be right but to be interesting. And this volume succeeds in the latter. As for the former, are these truly the 1,001 indispensable films? This reviewer doesn’t think so. You don’t think so. Next week, the authors won’t think so. This is the revised edition, after all. But this volume does two things we crave from books: it entertains and it makes us think. This reviewer, having seen 369 of the 1,001 films, would exclude some of those 369 and replace them with other favorites. You’d do the same—but it’s a smart list. While English-language films dominate, there are movies from Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, India, Russia, and more. The choices are catholic: silents, musicals, animation, documentaries, action, romances, Westerns. One fault: it tends toward auteurism—16 directed by Hitchcock, nine by Kubrick, nine by Spielberg, seven by Scorsese.
Verdict A beautifully illustrated book of ideas for the cineast and novitiate alike, this is a must-have for every movie buff.—Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH
Osborne, Robert. 85 Years of the Oscar®: The Official History of the Academy Awards. Abbeville. Nov. 2013. 476p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780789211422. $75. FILM
“And the Oscar goes to….” Eighty-five years of awards are documented in this well-illustrated coffee-table book, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s official companion to the Oscars, written by film historian and Turner Classic Movies host Osborne. Every nominee is listed in every category; all the scientific and technical awards are here. The book is thoroughly indexed, and there are details on the awards ceremonies. But there are faults. This is the sixth edition, and the publisher continues, as with earlier editions, to recycle nearly the entire book without change from prior releases. Considering the cover price, there are a very large number of black-and-white photos when you’d expect color. Also, best foreign film nominees have no production credits listed. And the book lacks the gossip and behind-the-scenes drama of Damien Bona and Mason Wiley’s Inside Oscar.
Verdict Serious film buffs who do not own one of the earlier editions will want this volume, but the high cover price is discouraging, especially since most of the book is old.—Michael O. Eshleman, Kings Mills, OH
Ronstadt, Linda. Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir. S. & S. 2013. 208p. photos. discog. index. ISBN 9781451668728. $26; ebk ISBN 9781451668742. MUSIC
The publisher of this memoir wants readers to know the book wasn’t ghostwritten, that Ronstadt can write with skill. Indeed, the swift prose is conversational and informed, much like Ronstadt’s music. But it’s difficult to call her a writer because her first book leaves so much left unsaid This isn’t a tell-all autobiography, it’s simply Ronstadt’s quick recollections of her life from childhood to rising country rock star to Grammy-winning conduit of traditional Mexican music, all with a tone as welcoming as the singer’s sweet face and emotive voice. But where her songs often showed traces of turmoil or unrest, this title doesn’t touch anything more complicated than the passing of friends and family. Most alarming, there’s no insight, or even mention, of how this lifelong singer is coping with the effects of Parkinson’s disease on her singing abilities. The title is nothing beyond a musician’s journey through a career in song, suspiciously devoid of pitfalls and depression. This is disappointing, because the lore of Ronstadt often seemed more interesting than her music: the romantic life that shifted from musicians to politicians; the public activism; and the burdens and delights of being the highest paid woman in music. Those aspects of her life aren’t here. It’s curious, as that’s something a true writer would not omit.
Verdict Ronstadt superfans and musicians who want to get inside the creative process of a “star” will love this book. For everyone else, keep your expectations at bay or wait for a more fulfilling bio.—Rob Morast, Norfolk, VA
Saul, Nick & Andrea Curtis. The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement. Melville House. 2013. 320p. index. ISBN 9781612193496. pap. $19.95. HOME ECON
Saul, an enthusiastic advocate for food policy reform, along with his wife, writer and editor Curtis (Into the Blue: Family Secrets and the Search for a Great Lakes Shipwreck), tells the story of how the Stop, a small food bank where Saul served as executive director, was transformed into a vibrant community food center, breathing new life and energy into a downtrodden Toronto neighborhood. (The Stop has since been become Community Food Centres Canada, serving people across the country, with Saul as CEO and president.) Here, Saul argues that traditional ways of providing for low-income communities through food banks aren’t sufficient, supporting his argument through his experiences with the Stop, which didn’t just simply offer food to its members but rather gave them opportunities to become advocates for themselves and provided a welcoming place for everyone in the community. He shows the difference that a more holistic approach, one that engages those it serves, can make, and his story is infused with his strong belief that it’s our moral responsibility to address poverty and hunger. While the tone can be a bit preachy at times, overall, this is an uplifting and exciting book about a community that has undergone real change.
Verdict Readers with an interest in poverty, community activism, food policies, and social justice will appreciate this passionate work.—Laura Krier, Sonoma State Univ., Rohnert Park, CA
Southwood, Emily. Prude: Lessons I Learned When My Fiancé Filmed Porn. Seal. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781580054980. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781580054997. PSYCH
Southwood (contributor, Betty Confidential; Huffington Post) found herself unsettled by the idea of her fiancé’s job filming porn for a reality television show even though she considered herself sexually liberal. The uncertainty made her feel like a prude and despite her support of him in taking the job, over the following months she wrestled with her decision. Repeatedly, she convinced herself that she could accept his work but never did, at least not until he decided to quit. It is this struggle that refines Southwood’s views on pornography and improves the intimacy of their relationship. She confirms for herself that porn isn’t all bad but, more important, learns the value of communication about pornography in a relationship, something—as she experiences—that is not easy for couples to do.
Verdict Southwood’s memoir portrays the emotional landscape pornography creates for many couples, which might include ambiguity, jealousy, divisiveness, desire, boredom, feelings of physical inadequacy, humor, sexual discovery, trust, and pleasure. Recommended for those interested in memoirs about relationships.—Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX
Swanson, James. End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Morrow. 2013. 416p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062083487. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062300201. HIST
Despite the apocalyptic title, Swanson (Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer) neither offers another conspiracy theory nor promotes any existing ones, and he does not speculate on how much better the world would have been had Kennedy lived. The author more than delivers on his promise of telling the story of the tragic events of November 22, 1963, and the surrounding days and how those closest to the event, along with the American public, grieved and tried to make sense out of the death of a young and popular president. Lee Harvey Oswald, whom the author regards as the lone assassin, and Jacqueline Kennedy, the grieving widow and orchestrator of the subsequent indelible Camelot myth, receive the most attention. Oswald, the author claims, easily had enough time to fire the three shots that killed JFK and wounded Gov. John Connally. Swanson includes compelling stories about Jacqueline Kennedy’s once glamorous life turned to post-assassination sadness: incessant invasions of privacy by the press, public attacks on her remarriage to Aristotle Onassis, and her early death from lymphoma at age 64.
Verdict This gripping narrative will captivate readers interested in following the events as they occurred. It will be in demand in public libraries and is an excellent companion volume to Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis’s Dallas 1963.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
White, Danny. Rihanna: The Unauthorized Biography. Michael O’Mara. 2013. 224p. photos. discog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781782430476. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781782430490. MUSIC
Grammy Award–winning pop starlet Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty is known for her controversial, sometimes tempestuous larger-than-life persona, which has been documented live on Twitter and Instagram. While some fans may prefer the in-depth, behind the carefully crafted stage image (reinforced by the singer’s 2010’s Last Girl on Earth) treatment that biographers provide, they are unlikely to get this in White’s (Johnny Depp; Will.i.am) unauthorized biography. Rihanna reads like a 200-page research essay (albeit an accessible one) that chronicles her childhood and troubled home life in Barbados to her rise to fame. Readers learn about Ri Ri’s home life and the addiction issues that caused her parents to divorce, presumably to contextualize her relationship with ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. Although the 2009 Brown debacle is discussed, an inordinate amount of coverage is given to reviews of Rihanna’s albums and concert performances. Drawing from other books and magazine and television interviews, White’s effort contributes little to what the ardent fan already knows.
Verdict Recommended for Rihanna fans looking for a compilation of existing information about the life and music of the pop star.—Tamela Chambers, Chicago Pub. Schs.