Beam, Alex. American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church. PublicAffairs. Apr. 2014. 352p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610393133. $26.99. REL
One of the great stories in American religious history is given balanced coverage by Beam (columnist, Boston Globe; A Great Idea at the Time). The murder of Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith is compelling on its own terms and is made all the more so here by Beam’s thorough research and riveting storytelling. He sets the stage by providing a capsule biography of Smith and a history of his church up to the Mormon arrival in Nauvoo, IL, in the early 1840s. Wherever Smith went, controversy followed, and Nauvoo was no exception. Though initially welcomed, Mormon immigrants, by their sheer numbers, intimidated the area’s previous settlers. Beam characterizes Smith as a complex figure but often a braggart who did not endear himself to the local citizenry. Then the doctrine of plural marriage was added to Mormon practice; although it was supposed to be a secret, it was not a very well-kept one. Finally, Smith ordered the destruction of Nauvoo’s only opposition press and the already combustible situation exploded. Add to this mess anti-Mormon mobs, the Mormon’s own homegrown army—the Nauvoo Legion—and an indecisive governor and you have the making of a true-crimes thriller. VERDICT Beam’s page-turner will appeal to history (not just religious history) buffs, as well as find a place on specialists’ shelves owing to its examination of primary sources.
DeMaio, Patricia A. Garden of Dreams: The Life of Simone Signoret. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. (Hollywood Legends). 2014. 352p. photos. filmog. notes. index. ISBN 9781604735697. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781617039362. FILM
Renowned French actress Simone Signoret (1921–85), who captivated audiences in such films as Casque d’Or, Room at the Top, Les Diaboliques, and numerous others, is sensitively depicted in this biography by DeMaio (grants resource manager, New Haven Pub. Sch. Dist., CT). The description of Signoret’s early days is particularly insightful, revealing the essence of the young woman’s character as her life in a privileged, albeit dysfunctional, family was forever changed during the Nazi occupation of Paris. How the indelible impression of these experiences resonated in the depth of her acting, involvement in social/humanitarian causes, and private choices is fully explored. The problematic details of Signoret’s life and cinematic career, including being blacklisted for social activism and plagued by scandals involving her husband, actor/singer Yves Montand, are presented honestly. However, the scope of her international fame, eventual recognition with an Academy Award, and dignified continuation of her acting career in the midst of personal struggles are given equal prominence. VERDICT This is an exceptionally perceptive work, supported by solid research and thoughtful commentary and set in a relevant cultural/historical context. Summary discussions of the actress’s films enhance rather than dominate the narrative, and comprehensive notes, filmography, bibliography, and photographs complement the text. For general and academic collections, film studies programs, and film enthusiasts.
Kumin, Maxine. And Short the Season. Norton. Apr. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9780393241006. $24.95. POETRY
Thoughtful and observant, these poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Kumin (Where I Live: New and Selected), just deceased, cover trusted ground: aging, death, rural life, and reverence for animals. It’s not only topic and theme that inform her writing but deftness of language, rhythm, and music, as evidenced by these lines: “I watched the taillights judder as you took/ the downhill elbows of the mudslicked lane” and “Wet feet, wet cuffs,/ little flecks of buttercup/ bluets, violets crowding out the tufts.” Kumin writes formal as well as rhythmic free verse, here including a series of sonnets that detail war atrocities as well as sonnets in homage to Margaret Cavendish, 17th-century scientist, poet, and feminist. Language and memory instill Kumin’s poetry with resonance; she tells us “Saving is a form of worship” and memory a particular way to save and savor. Whether she writes of Elizabeth Taylor’s first love, portrays a piebald horse, or compares the lives of Thomas Hardy and Michael Jackson, Kumin proves again, with style, compassion, and vibrance, that she still has much to say. VERDICT Highly recommended reading from an esteemed poet.
Turner Classic Movies & Richard Corliss. Mom in the Movies: The Iconic Screen Mothers You Love (and a Few You Love To Hate). S. & S. Apr. 2014. 192p. photos. ISBN 9781476738260. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476738284. FILM
The mother figure is both revered and reviled and nowhere is that more apparent than on the movie screen. From depictions of the selfless in Stella Dallas to the crazed in Mommie Dearest, motion pictures run the gamut when it comes to Mom. The film buffs at Turner Classic Movies, along with movie critic Corliss, have put together a comprehensive retrospective of mothers as portrayed on film from the earliest “Silent Moms,” such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford, to the most recent figures (e.g., Meryl Streep in August: Osage County; Tyler Perry’s Madea). Every type of mom is covered: “Serial Moms” (I Remember Mama); “Mammies and Nannies” (Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind; Viola Davis in The Help); and “Malevolent Moms” (Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate). With an introduction by mom-and-daughter team Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, this coffee-table book is affirmation that despite the financial constraints on an industry aimed at young men, “all of us need images in films to reflect and enrich, challenge and validate, the ones in our hearts. On that screen, we demand to see our better selves: our mothers.” VERDICT Both film students and regular movie fans alike will enjoy this definitive work.
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Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. Art Inst. of Chicago. 2013. 248p. ed. by Judith A. Barter & others. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300196238. $50. FINE ARTS
Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic. Prestel. 2013. 240p. ed. by Stephanie Barron & Lisa Gabrielle Mark. photos. index. ISBN 9783791353098. $55. FINE ARTS
Przybyszewski, Linda. The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish. Basic: Perseus. Apr. 2014. 368p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780465036714. $28.99. DEC ARTS
Begley, Adam. Updike. Harper. Apr. 2014. 576p. notes. index. ISBN 9780061896453. $34.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062109668. LIT
Meyers, Jeffrey. Thomas Mann’s Artist–Heroes. Northwestern Univ. 2014. 240p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780810129535. $26.95. LIT
MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. N+1: Faber & Faber. 2014. 272p. ed. by Chad Harbach. ISBN 9780865478138. pap. $16. LIT
Over the River and Through the Wood: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Children’s Poetry. Johns Hopkins. 2014. 592p. ed. by Karen L. Kilcup & Angela Sorby. index. ISBN 9781421411392. $60; pap. ISBN 9781421411408. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781421411446. LIT
Rakoff, Joanna. My Salinger Year. Knopf. Jun. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780307958006. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307958013. LIT
Gerard, Jeremy. Wynn Place Show: A Biased History of the Rollicking Life and Extreme Times of Wynn Handman and the American Place Theatre. Smith & Kraus. 2013. 229p. illus. index. ISBN 9781575258652. pap. $24.95. THEATER
Hilderbrand, Lucas. Paris Is Burning. Arsenal Pulp. (Queer Film Classics). 2014. 162p. photos. filmog. index. ISBN 9781551525198. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781551525204. FILM
Richard III: A Critical Reader. Bloomsbury. (Arden Early Modern Drama Guides). 2013. 254p. ed. by Annaliese Connolly. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781441168252. $110; pap. ISBN 9781472504968. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781472538949. THEATER
Robinson, Lisa. There Goes Gravity: A Life in Rock and Roll. Riverhead. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781594487149. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101632086. MUSIC
Knott, Marie Luise. Unlearning with Hannah Arendt. Other. May 2014. 192p. tr. from German by David Dollenmayer. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781590516478. $22.95. PHIL
Zapruder, Matthew. Sun Bear. Copper Canyon. Apr. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9781556594632. pap. $17. POETRY
Spirituality & Religion
Axelrod, Matt. Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder. Rowman & Littlefield. 2013. 200p. index. ISBN 9780765709899. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780765709905. REL
Cox, Stephen D. American Christianity: The Continuing Revolution. Univ. of Texas. (Discovering America). Apr. 2014. 286p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780292729100. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780292758612. REL
Schama, Simon. The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words 1000 BC–1492 AD. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2014. 512p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780060539184. $39.99. REL