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

Nonfiction: Tony Bennett, Immigration Economics, Dragonflies, Black English, David Salle | Xpress Reviews

Week ending October 21, 2016

Bennett, Tony with Scott Simon. Just Getting Started. Harper. Nov. 2016. 288p. illus. ISBN 9780062476777. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062476791. MUSIC
tonybennett102116The latest book by the pop icon (Life Is a Gift) finds the 90-year-old singer looking back at his life through the people who influenced him. From being renamed by Bob Hope (Bennett’s real name is Anthony Benedetto) to his recent album of duets with Lady Gaga, Bennett—with the assistance of Simon (NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday)—presents brief but charming portraits of many notable celebrities (such as Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Judy Garland, Bill Evans, and Amy Winehouse). Highlights include his first public singing performance at the age of ten in the presence of New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, joining Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry Belafonte in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965, and watching his onetime next-door neighbor Fred Astaire (who was in his 70s) dance alone in the privacy of his Beverly Hills home. His tribute to his parents, John (who died when he was ten) and Anna, who worked as a seamstress to support Tony and his two siblings, are the most touching.
Verdict Just Getting Started is a great way to “just get started” learning about Bennett and his approach to his craft.—Brian Flota, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA

Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. Norton. Oct. 2016. 240p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393249019. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393249026. ECON
Borjas (Robert W. Scrivner Professor of Economics & Social Policy, Kennedy Sch. of Govt., Harvard Univ.; Immigration Economics) presents a solid overview of the effects of immigration on U.S. workers. Immigrants, according to Borjas, might not fit the ideal of the country where they have come to live and work, but these individuals are protected by social insurance programs, and social environments affect their choices. Further, Borjas posits that American immigration is guided by winners and losers. The losers, in his opinion, are nonimmigrant workers competing for the same jobs. One is made conscious of the cost involved in implementing U.S. immigration policy. The author, a child refugee from Cuba, uses personal experience in his research indicating that native workers become more productive when met with highly skilled immigrants. Readers desiring further information on the topic might consult Paul Collier’s Exodus.
Verdict This book on a timely subject belongs in all collections with economics and immigration holdings. It should interest scholars (it presupposes a background in economics) and to a lesser extent general readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/16.]—Claude Ury, San Francisco

Dodds, Ruary Mackenzie with Kari de Koenigswarter. The Dragonfly-Friendly Gardener: Create a Garden Home for Dragonflies and Damselflies. Saraband. Dec. 2016. 72p. illus. ISBN 9781910192115. $14.95. GARDENING
Self-professed “dragonfly ambassador” Dodds (The Dragonfly Diaries) was chair of the Board of Trustees of Britain’s Dragonfly Project for 20 years, and he is a writer and TV and radio broadcaster. In this slender volume, he shares information about dragonflies and how to create a habitat for them by building a pond. He covers dragonfly morphology, the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, facts about dragonflies, conditions for prime dragonfly habitat, and how to create that habitat in the garden. He briefly covers how to build a pond and describes appropriate pond plants native to Britain to stock it as well as issues a gardener may face. His measurements are listed in metric units, and the listed resources cover British and European dragonfly species. The text is illustrated with line drawings by Dodds’s wife and coauthor de Koenigswarter and color photographs of some of the dragonflies, damselflies, and suggested plants.
Verdict While the author is clearly an expert on dragonflies and his passion for them is woven throughout the text, there has been very little effort to adapt this brief book for a North American audience.—Sue O’Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL

McWhorter, John. Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America’s Lingua Franca. Bellevue Literary. Jan. 2017. 192p. notes. index. ISBN 9781942658207. $19.99. LANG ARTS
In a series of essays, McWhorter (English & comparative literature, Columbia Univ.; Words on the Move; The Language Hoax) asserts that Black English is more than just Ebonics and “bad” English. Instead, he considers it to be a normal, systematic language that has changed and evolved as all languages have, historically. The author frames the negative connotation of Black English against the cultural perception of the speaker as opposed to the idiosyncrasies of the language itself. Written within a mainstream approach to linguistics, Black English is explained as an evolution of grammar, no different from the evolution of Old English into Modern English. McWhorter questions whether it’s possible to tell if someone is black by the sound of their voice, analyzes what causes people to switch situationally from Black English to Standard English, and discusses the use of the n-word.
Verdict This analysis of Black English is well suited for those who have an interest in black studies, education, history, language, or cultural studies.—Tiffeni Fontno, Boston Coll. Educational Resource Ctr.

Salle, David. How To See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking About Art. Norton. Oct. 2016. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9780393248135. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393248142. FINE ARTS
howtosee102116Alongside artists such as Julian Schnabel and Eric Fischl, Salle rose to prominence in 1980s New York for his playful, figurative paintings that dramatically diverged from the visually austere and conceptually driven artwork that had dominated the art world over the preceding decades. This newly released collection of Salle’s essays sees him attempting a similar break from the conventions of art criticism. Written over the past four decades, the essays collected here range widely in topic, from the Renaissance to the present, but most are monographic in form and focus on living, white male artists, including Frank Stella, John Baldessari, and Jeff Koons. As he states in his introduction, Salle wants to avoid what he describes as the generalizing language of professional art writing (with its frequent recourse to broad art historical styles and obscure critical theory) and instead analyze art in direct and intimate fashion as befits a practicing artist. Although many may take issue with Salle’s dismissal of art history and theory, his writing is refreshingly engaging and original: conversational in tone, replete with personal anecdotes, and grounded in keen observational analysis.
Verdict Recommended to readers of contemporary art criticism and artists concerned with how to discuss their work publicly. [See Prepub Alert, 4/18/16.]—Jonathan Patkowski, CUNY Graduate Ctr.

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