Berger, Edward. Softly, with Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music. Temple Univ. May 2014. 384p. photos. discog. notes. index. ISBN 9781439911273. $35. MUSIC
Joe Wilder (b. 1922) is not only one of the few trumpeters to build a career in classical and jazz performance, he is also one of the first African American musicians to do so. Writer/photographer Berger’s (cohost, WBGO FM’s Jazz from the Archives; Bassically Speaking) approach in this biography encompasses not only Wilder’s career, but also offers a vivid and well-researched depiction of both jazz and Broadway orchestras and a picture of the unheralded musician that is fascinating reading. Of the handful of jazz and classical artists whose names are recognizable to the public there are tens of thousands who have made vital contributions to their field but are historically relegated to being just “a member of the band.” Wilder is an exceptional and well-traveled musician and Berger’s highly readable account is clearly an overdue testament to the performer’s skills and accomplishments. VERDICT Exploring Wilder’s life and the times in which he lived, this wonderful book should be read by anyone interested in jazz or classical music; it belongs in every library.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything. Twelve: Grand Central. Apr. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781455501762. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455501755. REL
Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) offers a deeply personal look at her search for the truth about life and spirituality. Occasionally brutal in its introspective honesty, this book reveals the alcoholic dysfunction of her parents’ relationship and how it affected her growth and beliefs. The author’s family’s staunch atheism often made Ehrenreich the outsider as a child, but also gave her the tools and freedom to question everything around her, including religion. She dabbled in multiple faiths before settling into atheism herself, but throughout her teen years, she had dissociative “mystical experiences” that she eventually self-diagnosed as a psychological disorder. It wasn’t until midlife that she returned to her quest for meaning and attempted to describe her experiences as something more than lapses into mental illness. VERDICT Emotionally evocative, at times disturbing, Ehrenreich’s work is engaging and invites—no, demands that its readers question the world around them and everything they believe about it. The author’s rational approach to researching “religious experiences” similar to her own, her mission to find an answer to: “Why are we here?” is profoundly relatable to those who have asked similar questions, who have wondered at humanity’s purpose, and who have probed at the presence of the Other. Part memoir, part mystical journey, this is essential for anyone with an interest in religious studies, contemporary history, or memoir and biography.
Jamison, Leslie. The Empathy Exams. Graywolf. Apr. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781555976712. pap. $15. LIT
Jamison (The Gin Closet) notes that empathy is “a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves.” In this collection of 11 essays, which take place in many different regions of the world including Central America, Bolivia, South Central Los Angeles, and Tennessee, the author does pay attention. She writes about a variety of subjects such as reality television, Tijuana, Frida Kahlo, ultra marathons, the West Memphis Three, illness, female suffering, and working as a medical actor, examining some very difficult topics with intelligent candor. The types of empathy—self, painful, guilt, fearful—evoked when reading the pieces are as varied as their subject matter. Jamison illustrates self-empathy, for example, when openly describing traumatic events in her personal life, including when she was violently mugged in Nicaragua; cleverly woven into the retelling of this painful and terrifying ordeal is Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale. VERDICT Winner of the 2011 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, these essays will inspire readers to reflect on their own feelings of empathy—not an easy feat in today’s disinterested society. This provocative collection will appeal to many types of readers.
Robbins, Tom. Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062267405. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062267429. LIT
The imagination behind Still Life with Woodpecker; Skinny Legs and All; Villa Incognito; and a children’s book about beer (B Is for Beer), is now the subject of Robbins’s newest collection. Although the author insists that this is not a memoir, he admits that “it waddles and quacks enough like a memoir to be mistaken for one if the light isn’t right.” At any rate, it is an account of the “absolutely true” events of Robbins’s life: his early childhood in rural Appalachia; his stint in Korea, in which he sold toiletries on the black market and unwittingly supplied Communist China with Colgate toothpaste; his many loves and marriages; and his path to writing and to the Pacific Northwest. Spanning more than seven decades, and regions as geographically and culturally diverse as Greenwich Village and Omaha, Robbins’s life is a metonymy for the 20th-century American experience: the Depression, war, racism, jazz, the psychedelic Sixties—it’s all here. VERDICT Memoir or not, the form suits Robbins’s digressive style, philosophical musings, and self-deprecating humor. Each piece stands on its own, but when read side by side they develop into a powerful argument about magic and the necessity of imaginative, interior worlds. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/13.]
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Drawing Autism. Akashic. 2014. 160p. ed. by Jill Mullin. illus. index. ISBN 9781617751981. pap. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617752087. FINE ARTS
Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s. Yale Univ. Apr. 2014. 248p. ed. by Patricia Mears & G. Bruce Boyer. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780300204209. $55. DEC ARTS
Martins, Sérgio B. Constructing an Avant-Garde: Art in Brazil, 1949–1979. MIT. 2013. 232p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780262019262. $40. FINE ARTS
Volpintesta, Laura. The Language of Fashion Design: 26 Principles Every Fashion Designer Should Know. Rockport: Quarto. 2014. 224p. illus. index. ISBN 9781592538218. pap. $40. DEC ARTS
Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties. Monacelli. 2014. 160p. ed. by Teresa A. Carbone & Kellie Jones. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781580933902. $40. FINE ARTS
Bromwich, David. The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke: From the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence. Belknap: Harvard Univ. May 2014. 508p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674729704. $39.95. LIT
Buckley, Christopher. But Enough About You: Essays. S. & S. May 2014. 448p. index. ISBN 9781476749518. $27.50; ebk. ISBN 9781476749532. HUMOR
Skyhorse, Brando. Take This Man. S. & S. Jun. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781439170878. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781439170908. LIT
Whitehead, Colson. The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death. Doubleday. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780385537056. $24.95. HUMOR
Wyeth, Adam. The Hidden World of Poetry: Unravelling Celtic Mythology in Contemporary Irish Poetry. Salmon. Apr. 2014. 148p. ISBN 9781908836564. pap. $21.95. LIT
Callahan, Dan. Vanessa: A Life of Vanessa Redgrave. Pegasus. May 2014. 416p. index. ISBN 9781605985572. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605985930. FILM
Conrad, Peter. Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries. Thames & Hudson. Apr. 2014. 384p. illus. index. ISBN 9780500290859. pap. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780500771440. MUSIC
Guffey, Ensley F. & K. Dale Koontz. Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad. ECW. May 2014. 448p. photos. index. ISBN 9781770411173. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770904989. TV
Kinney, David. The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob. S. & S. May 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781451626926. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451626940. MUSIC
McGowan, Todd. Spike Lee. Univ. of Illinois. (Contemporary Film Directors). 2014. 184p. photos. filmog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252038143. $70; pap. ISBN 9780252079610. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780252095405. FILM
Pollock, Bruce. A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Story. Hal Leonard. 2014. 250p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781423492214. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781480386099. MUSIC
“We’re All Infected”: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human. McFarland. Apr. 2014. 245p. ed. by Dawn Keetley. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786476282. pap. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781476614526. TV
Maxwell, Nicholas. How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World: The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution. Imprint Academic. 2014. 156p. ISBN 9781845405731. pap. $19.90. PHIL
Kasischke, Laura. The Infinitesimals. Copper Canyon. May 2014. 100p. ISBN 9781556594663. pap. $16. POETRY
Lemon, Alex. The Wish Book. Milkweed. 2014. 88p. ISBN 9781571314505. pap. $16. POETRY
Sze, Arthur. Compass Rose. Copper Canyon. May 2014. 75p. ISBN 9781556594670. pap. $16. POETRY
Spirituality & Religion
Satlow, Michael L. How the Bible Became Holy. Yale Univ. Apr. 2014. 352p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300171914. $35. REL
Watson, Peter. The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought To Live Since the Death of God. S. & S. 2014. 512p. notes. index. ISBN 9781476754314. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781476754338. REL
Sports & Recreation
Feinstein, John. Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball. Doubleday. 2014. 384p. index. ISBN 9780385535939. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385535946. SPORTS
Houses of Ill Repute
Brittain-Catlin, Timothy. Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture. MIT. 2014. 192p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780262026697. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780262321259. ARCH
Brittain-Catlin (senior lecturer, Kent Sch. of Architecture) looks at lost, neglected, and modified designs of England’s forgotten architects, referring to them as ”losers” throughout. He postulates that most writing on architectural history is ineffective since it returns repeatedly to the best examples of successful architecture but fails to give critical attention to lesser-known buildings. Looking mainly at structures of the last century to the present the author describes how the lack of conversation about architecture has resulted in pervasive bad design. “Loser” architects cannot relate to the lofty ideals of conventional criticism so they go in their own directions, producing ugly constructs with undisciplined designs. Readers of this book may want to consider Douglas Murphy’s Architecture of Failure, which references Victorian glass and iron design as an archetype for the recurring faults of architects to produce lasting innovation. This title is difficult to follow because of the author’s wordiness and use of run-on sentences; nevertheless, Brittain-Catlin makes a good case for reevaluating the quality of architectural criticism. VERDICT Architecture faculty and practicing architects will find this book to be a valuable source of professional discussion.
Hubka, Thomas C. Houses Without Names: Architectural Nomenclature and the Classification of America’s Common Houses. Univ. of Tennessee. (Vernacular Architecture Studies). 2013. 112p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781572339477. pap. $29.95. ARCH
This is one title in a series of books produced by the Vernacular Architecture Forum. It is a reasoned explanation for developing definitions for common domestic homes in the United States, with a call for the public, students, and architectural historians to use the theories set forth to conduct a census of regional homes. In order to develop a common descriptive language for homes, Hubka (Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century Polish Community) argues that a residence should be identified by its outside features as well as its interior layout. The work includes small black-and-white photographs of exteriors and diagrams of floor plans. A set of representative blueprints is supplied with the author’s universal term describing groups of floor plans. For example, homes built between 1800 and 2000 can be primarily classified into these groupings: suburban; minimal-traditional; manufactured home; split-level; and ranch. VERDICT This book is for readers interested in domestic architecture in the United States and for those who want to create a classification scheme and conduct a census of common homes.
Echoes of Grunge
Cameron, Keith. Mudhoney: The Sound and the Fury from Seattle. Voyageur: Quarto. 2014. 304p. photos. discog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780760346617. pap. $19.99. MUSIC
While they never enjoyed the commercial and popular success of Nirvana or Soundgarden, Mudhoney is one of grunge’s seminal groups. Formed in the suburbs of Seattle in 1988 out of the ashes of the protogrunge band Green River, which included future members of Pearl Jam, Mudhoney went on to help define and influence the metal/punk musical genre that went global in the early 1990s. In this first full bio of the group, Cameron (contributing editor, Mojo magazine) stakes a claim for the band as one of the key pioneers and innovators in the scene. The author’s history of the group is deftly done—a compelling combination of setting the scene from which they emerged and letting the musicians tell their own story. While it is primarily a book about Mudhoney, it is necessarily a memoir of the grunge scene, and should be considered alongside key titles such as Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town. VERDICT Because of its exhaustive detail about a lesser-known (if highly regarded) band, this book will have specialized appeal to Mudhoney and grunge fans, and moderate appeal for general music readers.
Cross, Charles R. Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain. It: HarperCollins. 2014. 192p. ISBN 9780062308214. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062308245. MUSIC
The “legend” of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (1967–94) has been studied, theorized, debated, and written about over the last two decades since his death. The irony of the “legend” label and the expectations that come with it is that it is somewhat anathema to the behavior, beliefs, and lifestyle that created Nirvana. While Cross’s narrative is not a biography (his 2001 title, Heavier Than Heaven, is), readers will still come to know Cobain through the context of his ubiquitous legacy and its influence on popular culture. This short but intriguing book explores the troubled musician as a kind of muse for seemingly unrelated fields (modern hip-hop, medical studies, high-end fashion) as well as a champion for gay and women’s rights and racial equality. Although Cross concludes that Cobain’s impact is largely a personal one, this title answers “how” and “why” 20 years after his death Cobain continues to resonate with those old enough to remember him at the height of fame and those young enough to be their children. VERDICT Recommended for long-standing Nirvana and Cobain fans and those who have recently discovered the artist and his band.
Beck, Jerry. The Art of Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Insight Editions. 2014. 156p. illus. ISBN 9781608872589. $45. FILM
Former Nickelodeon and Disney studio executive, film producer, and animation historian Beck (The SpongeBob SquarePants Experience: A Deep Dive into the World of Bikini Bottom) presents this companion piece to the whimsical new motion picture adaptation of Peabody’s Improbable History, originally a segment of the Rocky and His Friends television series, with appreciative care and a palpable enthusiasm for the subject. This behind-the-scenes look at the making of the feature highlights the major characters, scenes and creations, and the process that led from concept drawing through to the final screen iterations hilariously informed by the original cartoon’s deadpan aesthetic. From the WABAC Machine to Leonardo da Vinci’s Flying Machine, Marie Antoinette to Cleopatra, the whimsy and clever updating of this mid-century classic jumps off the page. A foreword by Ty Burrell, the film voice of Mr. Peabody, preface by Tiffany Ward, daughter of Jay Ward, the creator of Rocky and His Friends, and afterword by director Rob Minkoff provide helpful context for the documentation of this mammoth effort by dozens of talented artists. VERDICT Fans of the recently released film and students of state-of-the-art animated techniques will appreciate this fun look into a filmmaking adventure.
Van Citters, Darrell. The Art of Jay Ward Productions. Oxberry Pr. 2013. 352p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780615847863. $49.95. TV
Producers of cultural mainstays such as Rocky, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody, and Sherman (among many others), Jay Ward and his team enjoyed a prolific run of television success in the 1960s and 1970s. These animated creations continue to inspire movie adaptations to this day. Van Citters (Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special) has given Ward fans a labor of love, providing biographies of Bill Scott, Allan Burns, and other major players, along with a wealth of archival documentation of the artists and their processes, from the early days of Crusader Rabbit all the way through the Quaker Oats commercials (remember Quisp and Quake?) and later series such as Super Chicken and George of the Jungle. Most of these famous characters originated in California studios, but were rendered by another team in Mexico, one of many money-saving efforts by Ward, a man who also happened to hold an MBA from Harvard. Complete with helpful features such as illustration and photography credits, this work is a must for any Bullwinkle aficionado. VERDICT This title is fun for pop culture enthusiasts and animation history buffs alike. [See author Q&A, ow.ly/uUlqO.]