In honor of Banned Books Week, this edition of the “Classic Returns” column highlights two authors who faced censorship and obscenity trials for their groundbreaking work. Lenny Bruce transformed the stand-up comedy scene during the 1950s Beat era, speaking truth to power; Radclyffe Hall dared to fictionalize her life as an out lesbian in the 1920s. Both of these social pioneers were punished in their lifetimes for their outspokenness and are now considered icons. We are fortunate that their books are still available so many years later. We are also lucky to have a second (or third, fourth, etc.) chance to read about and experience other creatives and iconoclasts of yore, including two rock bands, an L.A. woman, an unsung artist and a well-known one, and two travel writers, one of whom may be fictitious.
Babitz, Eve. Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A. NYRB Classics. 200p. ISBN 9781681370088. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681370095. F
West Coast siren and 1960s–1970s scenester Babitz is a “What We’re Reading” darling (at least by this editor’s reckoning). This reissue of her second book (after Eve’s Hollywood), originally published in 1977, begins as a mash note to an elusive man, one of the few the lovely Babitz didn’t conquer. But the autobiographical novel unfolds into so much more, re-creating a bygone SoCal in ten “sketches” à la her first book. There are other Babitzes in the NYRB pipeline for those of you who, like me, can’t get enough of her.
Bruce, Lenny. How To Talk Dirty and Influence People: An Autobiography. Da Capo: Perseus. Aug. 2016. 188p. photos. ISBN 9780306825293. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780306825309. HUMOR/BIOG
A bible to many of today’s sharpest and funniest (Penn Jillette, Richard Lewis, and Lewis Black, who contributes a new preface), this autobiography by the groundbreaking comedian-social critic-screenwriter-satirist Bruce (1925–66) is being rereleased to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his death. How To Talk Dirty was first published by Playboy Press in 1965, with a foreword by esteemed critic Kenneth Tynan, a boundary pusher in his own right. This edition has Tynan’s original foreword, a foreword by Chicago arts journalist Howard Reich, and comedian Black’s introduction, in which he praises this book for making him laugh and think. “He took me to places I hadn’t imagined possible,” Black says, adding that the work “changed the way I looked at life.” Included in this influential and bitterly funny title are transcripts from Bruce’s 1964 obscenity trial.
Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. Vintage. Jul. 2016. 595p. photos. ISBN 9781784870324. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN9781473521612. LIT
Hall, born Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall (1880–1943), was another trailblazer and future obscenity plaintiff. The Well of Loneliness, originally published in Britain in 1928, was the openly homosexual author’s semiautobiographical novel, and her only one to deal overtly with lesbian themes. For this the book’s publisher, Jonathan Cape, was tried for obscenity and the title was banned in Britain for more than 20 years. However, it was released abroad (and subsequently available in Britain in 1949) and went on to be regarded as a “landmark work of lesbian literature.” This edition includes extra material about the obscenity trial, as well as photos of Hall and her longtime lover Lady Una Troubridge.
Sexton, Sean & Robert Flynn Johnson. The Plant Kingdoms of Charles Jones. Thames & Hudson. Oct. 2016. 128p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780500544631. $24.95. PHOTOG
In 1981, photo historian Sexton came across a stash of beautiful gelatin silver prints of fruits, vegetables, and other plants at a London antiques market. The photos were the work of a local gardener, Charles Jones (1866–1959), produced around the beginning of the 20th century. Little is known about Jones, but here art specialist and curator Johnson contextualizes his photography and imparts what information he can about the man who “left no notes or diaries to explain why he photographed the plants he saw every day.” A revised edition of 1998’s Plant Kingdoms: The Photographs of Charles Jones (Smithmark), this handsomely illustrated volume features a preface by writer and restaurateur Alice Waters.
Time Travels: 1953
Bedford, Sybille. A Visit to Don Otavio: A Mexican Journey. NYRB Classics. Jun. 2016. 392p. ISBN 9781590179697. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590179703. TRAV
Novelist, journalist, and Aldous Huxley biographer Bedford (1911–2006) was raised in Germany, Italy, France, and England. During World War II, she lived briefly in New York City. This title, originally published in 1953, charts the author’s post–World War II road trip, accompanied by her friend E. and “little else than a hamper of food and drink” to Mexico. They visit the titular Don Otavio’s lakeside hacienda, but that “heavenly” destination is only a part of the travelog. Bedford takes readers along with her on the trip, recording conversations, dusty bus rides, and roadside adventures. Includes a 1986 introduction by Patagonia author Bruce Chatwin.
Metcalf, John. London A to Z. Thames & Hudson. Sept. 2016. 142p. illus by Edward Bawden. ISBN 9780500292471. pap. $10.95. TRAV
More than 60 years after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II brought droves of visitors to London, this whimsical guide to the city and its inhabitants is rereleased to celebrate the queen’s 90th year. Writer Peyton Skipworth’s new introduction calls into question whether author Metcalf really existed, discusses what and who is still standing, and commends the “decorations” by Bawden, who evidently was a real person.
Bang, Molly. Picture This: How Pictures Work; 25th Anniversary Edition. Chronicle. Aug. 2016. 152p. illus. ISBN 9781452135151. $28.99; pap. ISBN 9781452151991. $22.99. DEC ARTS
Award-winning author/illustrator Bang’s 1991 work was dubbed the “Strunk & White of visual literacy.” In this revised, expanded anniversary edition, she explains how visual images work to engage emotions and how artistic elements tell a story.
Rogan, Johnny. Morrissey & Marr: The Severed Alliance; The 25th Anniversary Edition. Overlook Omnibus. Aug. 2016. 624p. photos. discog. filmog. notes. index. ISBN 9781468313130. $21.95. MUSIC
Rock journalist Rogan spent four years researching the first edition of this book; this new doorstopper reissue has fresh interviews and information on iconic Smiths front men (Steven) Morrissey (vocals) and Johnny Marr (guitar) and their fractured, fractious relationship.
Sweet, Brian. Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years. Overlook Omnibus. Aug. 2016. 384p. photos. discog. index. ISBN 9781468313147. pap. $18.95. MUSIC
Slightly less doorstoppery than the Smiths book, this biography of “one of rock’s most elusive megabands” was first published in 1994 by the former editor and publisher of Steely Dan fanzine Metal Leg. The current version has been updated to include details of Steely Dan founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s work after the title’s original publication, including the 2003 album, Everything Must Go, and recent tours.
Gayford, Martin. A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney. Thames & Hudson. Aug. 2016. 304p. illus. index. ISBN 9780500292259. pap. $24.95. FINE ARTS
Five new chapters have been added to this volume, originally published in 2011. “The world’s most popular living painter” discusses his life and art with Spectator art critic Gayford (Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait with Lucian Freud; with coauthor Philippe de Montebello, Rendez-vous with Art). Also featured is a further reading list and over 180 color and black-and-white illustrations.
Livingstone, Marco & Kay Heymer. Hockney’s Portraits and People. Thames & Hudson. Sept. 2016. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9780500292341. pap. $29.95. FINE ARTS
Here’s another Hockney book from Thames & Hudson, with more pages of illustrations than text (246 and 240, respectively). Previously titled Hockney’s People (Bullfinch) in 2003 and released in hardcover, this large-format paperback edition is brimming with portraits of the friends, family, and lovers in Hockney’s orbit, including the famous (Andy Warhol, Billy Wilder, Armistead Maupin), semifamous, and not so famous.