LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Poet Nickole Brown, Filmmaker John Hughes, Photographer Paul Strand, & More | Arts & Humanities Reviews, April 1, 2015

redstarBrown, Nickole. Fanny Says. BOA Editions. Apr. 2015. 147p. ISBN 9781938160578. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781938160585. POETRY

fannysays4915In a voice that is both authentic and colloquial, Brown (Sister) tells the story, without sentimentality or cliché, of her grandmother Fanny. At the heart of these lyric hybrids (epistolaries, monologs, and other poetic celebrations) is language, the language of communication, the language of shared heritage. “Fanny Linguistics,” for example, explains things—the uses of Clorox and Crisco, of swilling Pepsi, and of chugging nerve pills. These are poems of survival—and sometimes advice. “Child, you looking like some trash./ Give your grandma that dinge./ I don’t care if you ain’t got a dime./ I told you a hundred and one times—/ soap’s cheap.” Brown follows Fanny’s story from young bride and mother to her death and beyond. It’s rare to find a book of poems that reads like a well-plotted page-turner, each poem propelling the reader into the next, each poem filled with story and song. This is that book. VERDICT Bawdy and real, this volume will stay with readers long after Fanny has had her final say.—Karla Huston, Appleton, WI

redstarHoneycutt, Kirk. John Hughes: A Life in Film; The Genius Behind Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, and More. Race Point: Quarto. 2015. 224p. photos. filmog. notes. index. ISBN 9781631060229. $40. FILM

johnhughes4915Filmmaker John Hughes (1950–2009) captured the zeitgeist of suburban America in the 1980s and 1990s with his iconic teen-angst comedies and madcap cinematic romps. In this retrospective, film critic and blogger (honeycuttshollywood.com) ­Honeycutt reviews Hughes’s legacy of creating memorable characters such as the title character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), writing humorous and zany stories such as those of the “Vacation” and “Home Alone” movies, and spotting talented actors including Molly Ringwald, star of Sixteen Candles (1984) and Pretty in Pink (1986). While it is evident that the author is a fan, the book is not merely a nostalgic look back at an impressive filmography. Honeycutt takes a critical look at the filmmaker and his films. Even though Hughes’s sensitivity and perfectionism led him to create believable “underdog” or “outsider” characters and endearing stories, these same traits also made it increasingly difficult for him to work with the actors, directors, and producers as his career progressed, eventually resulting in his retirement from filmmaking. VERDICT Reminiscent of a high school yearbook in format and filled with behind-the-scenes photos and movie posters, the book is perfect for film students, fans of Hughes’s movies, and “I love the Eighties” devotees.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

redstarPaul Strand: Master of Modern Photography. Yale Univ. 2014. 372p. ed. by Peter Barberie & Amanda Bock. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300207927. $75. FINE ARTS

paulstrand4915The brilliant American photographer/filmmaker Strand (1890–1976) led a long and accomplished life, leaving a body of work that had profound influence on a variety of other artists. His early photographs, nurtured by Lewis Hine and Alfred Stieglitz, epitomized the burgeoning modernist spirit then infusing the culture, and was coeval with both cubism and abstraction. He later moved on to social-realist filmmaking and photo-essay formats that approached the ethnographic while further exploring the arresting compositional and textural qualities at which he so excelled. Some familiar images, such as the penetrating character portraits and abstracted urban landscapes, are pure genius. Strand’s influence on visual culture seems underacknowledged: aspects of his vision are discernible in such diverse places as the work of Saul Bass, Roy Liechtenstein, and Frank Gehry, not to mention later photographers such as William Eggleston and Mary Ellen Mark. Strand’s widow gave the Philadelphia Museum of Art a large collection of his prints, which, in addition to numerous other acquisitions, forms the largest repository of his work, and the core of the marvelous retrospective which this beautifully produced book augments. Containing over 250 plates and three solid essays mapping his life’s work, a better overview of an important artist is hard to imagine. VERDICT An overdue, fitting tribute to one of the great American masters of the 20th century, filled with mesmerizing artistic photography.—Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L.

Art on the Streets

Bull, Martin. This Is Not a Photo Opportunity: The Street Art of Banksy. PM Pr. May 2015. 176p. photos. ISBN 9781629630366. $20; ebk. ISBN 9781629630502. FINE ARTS

Photographer and curator Bull’s collection of Banksy’s works might be the closest thing to a retrospective on one street artist’s work. Since the medium is often completed in public spaces and occupies a precarious position on the spectrum of legality, it can be difficult to experience the full oeuvre of a particular artist. Enter Bull, who has led walking tours of Banksy’s pieces and has produced several DIY compilations of Banksy’s art previously. Bull has categorized his photographs of the artist’s pieces according to their themes—political messages, social commentary, or lighthearted visual gags. Whatever your take on street art, Bull provides a solid introduction to Banksy’s work. His curation of the pieces covers ground from 1996–2014, illustrating the evolution of the creator’s style, and gives ample fodder for readers to consider the question, “defacement or art?” ­VERDICT Readers who have watched Exit Through the Gift Shop will discover this book provides additional perspectives on the work of the venerated artist. Students of graphic design will also find the composition of these pieces refreshing.—Rachael Dreyer, American ­Heritage Ctr., Laramie, WY

Kuittinen, Riikka. Street Craft: Guerrilla Gardening, Yarnbombing, Light Graffiti, Street Sculpture, and More. Thames & Hudson. 2015. 224p. illus. ISBN 9780500517840. $29.95. FINE ARTS

streetcraft4915Curator and writer ­Kuittinen takes readers on a global tour of street art; the volume’s international perspective is one of its clear strengths. From yarn bombing to appliqué, gardening to stenciled light projections, origami to cross-stitch, miniatures, and book sculpting, Kuittinen takes us far beyond street art in its most widely understood form (graffiti tags), though some spray paint is featured. The author’s introductory essay discusses the evolution of street art forms, with an overview of the genre. Brief essays from each of the featured artists introduce their work and supply insight into the creators’ processes, motivations, and identities (many of which remain anonymous since street art installation isn’t entirely legal). The author also references the online presence of these “makers,” an integral component of street art/craft’s semi-permanence—documenting these fleeting and ephemeral pieces can be difficult, and an online presence expands an artist’s reach. Kuittinen demonstrates that art can be both visually striking and effective activism, even if pieces are noncommissioned, temporary street works. The premise that guides this compilation is that “rather than vandalism, this is street art as volunteerism.” VERDICT A solid primer on the subject for both burgeoning artists and fans.—Rachael Dreyer, ­American Heritage Ctr., Laramie, WY

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
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Literature

Forrester, Viviane. Virginia Woolf: A Portrait. Columbia Univ. May 2015. 256p. tr. from French by Jody Gladding. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780231153560. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780231535120. LIT

redstarLehman, David. The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988–2014. Univ. of Pittsburgh. (Pitt Poetry). Apr. 2015. 224p. notes. index. ISBN 9780822944393. $24.95. LIT

McParland, Robert. Beyond Gatsby: How Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Writers of the 1920s Shaped American Culture. Rowman & Littlefield. (Contemporary American Literature). Apr. 2015. 272p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781442247086. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442247093. LIT

Morgan, Ann. The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe. Liveright: Norton. May 2015. 336p. bibliog. ISBN 9781631490675. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631490682. LIT

redstarNeil Gaiman in the 21st Century: Essays on the Novels, Children’s Stories, Online Writings, Comics and Other Works. McFarland. Apr. 2015. 272p. ed. by Tara Prescott. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786494774. pap. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781476619941. LIT

redstarWampole, Christy. The Other Serious: Essays for the New American Generation. Harper. Jul. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780062320353. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062320377. LIT

Performing Arts

Bowie on Bowie: Interviews and Encounters with David Bowie. Chicago Review. (Musicians in Their Own Words). May 2015. 432p. ed. by Sean Egan. ISBN 9781569769775. $27.95. MUSIC

Epstein, Edward Z. Audrey and Bill: A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn and William Holden. Running Pr. Apr. 2015. 240p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780762455973. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780762456093. FILM

Glass, Philip. Words Without Music: A Memoir. Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2015. 432p. photos. index. ISBN 9780871404381. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631490811. MUSIC

Lydon, John. Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. S. & S. Apr. 2015. 544p. ISBN 9780062400215. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062400222. MUSIC

Marovich, Robert M. A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music. Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Apr. 2015. 464p. photos. discog. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780252080692. pap. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252097089. MUSIC

Santopietro, Tom. The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain, and Ten Singing Von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time. St. Martin’s. 2015. 288p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250064462. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466870598. FILM

Wellman, William, Jr. Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel. Pantheon. Apr. 2015. 656p. photos. filmog. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307377708. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781101870280. FILM

Philosophy

Camosy, Charles C. Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation. Eerdmans. Apr. 2015. 224p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802871282. $22. PHIL

Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace. Columbia Univ. Apr. 2015. 192p. ed. by Steven M. Cahn & Maureen Eckert. notes. index. ISBN 9780231161527. $75; pap. ISBN 9780231161534. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780231539166. PHIL

Poetry

Ashbery, John. Breezeway. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2015. 128p. ISBN 9780062387028. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062404886. POETRY

Bialosky, Jill. The Players. Knopf. 2015. 80p. ISBN 9780385352628. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780385352635. POETRY

Jacobs, Jessica. Pelvis with Distance. White Pine. Apr. 2015. 135p. ISBN 9781935210665. pap. $16. POETRY

Spirituality & Religion

Brown, Peter. The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity. Harvard Univ. Apr. 2015. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674967588. $24.95. REL

Raybon, Patricia & Alana Raybon. Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace. Thomas Nelson. Apr. 2015. 256p. notes. ISBN 9780529113054. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9780529113078. REL

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