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

Poets, Murder, Maids, Music, & More | Classic Returns

The first “Classic Returns” column of 2017 is heavy on the creatives, with a lineup of musicians, poets, writers, artists, dancers, and philosophers, not to mention a lagniappe of French lit. Artists Francis Bacon and David Hockney and graphic artist Paul Rand describe their aesthetic; New Orleans musician Danny Barker rubs elbows with a who’s who of jazz performers; a team of Russian translators shepherd a new edition of an iconoclast’s novel; and Roxane Gay introduces readers to activist author Alice Childress. Poets-as-translators and songwriters as Nobel Prize winners feature prominently, too. Plus, there’s some British golden age mysteries, a revised reissue of Lawrence Block’s first crime novel, and the Marquis de Sade’s prison-penned The 120 Days of Sodom to keep you awake during the dark winter months.

barkerlifeinjazzBarker, Danny. A Life in Jazz. Historic New Orleans Collection. (Louisiana Musicians Biography). 2016. 254p. ed. by Alyn Shipton. photos. discog. index. ISBN 9780917860713. $39.95. AUTOBIOg/MUSIC
Barker (1909–94), “an elder statesman of jazz and an international representative of New Orleans and African American culture,” had a career as a musician for more than 60 years. This story of his life and music was first published in 1986. Original editor BBC radio host Shipton supplies previously unpublished material for this new edition, which is accompanied by 100-plus images, Barker’s complete discography, a never-before-published song catalog, and a new introduction by music journalist Gwen Thompkins (host, public radio’s Music Inside Out). Among the cast of players in Barker’s reminiscences are jazz greats such as Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie.

childress-likeonefamilyChildress, Alice. Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life. Beacon. Jan. 2017. 264p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780807050743. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780807050767. F
Playwright, novelist, and actress Childress’s (1916–94) 1956 novel started as a column in Paul Robeson’s newspaper, Freedom, then appeared in the Baltimore Afro-American. The vignettes are conversations between Mildred, a black domestic, and her friend Marge. The chapters range from sober to humorous, and incisively depict the racism, classism, and sexism of 1950s New York. A foreword by author Roxane Gay draws the parallels to the present:

Sixty years later, what Mildred, by way of Alice Childress, had to say about race, class, and gender remain painfully relevant. In “Got To Go Someplace,” Mildred talks about the precarious nature of black life. “Don’t it give you goose pimples when you realize that white people can kill us and get away with it?” she asks Marge. “Just think of it,” Mildred continues. “We are walkin’ targets everywhere we go—on the subway, in the street, everywhere.”

Dylan, Bob. The Lyrics: 1961–2012. S. & S. 2016. 680p. illus. ISBN 9781451648768. $60. MUSIC
As mentioned in the post I wrote last October, “Reading Bob Dylan,” after singer-songwriter Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, his publisher bumped up the rerelease of this collection, first published in 2004 and then again in 2014. The lyrics, presented handsomely in a large black/white/red volume, cover songs from his 1961 album, Bob Dylan, all the way through 2012’s Tempest.

hockneypicturesHockney, David. Hockney’s Pictures. Thames & Hudson. Jan. 2017. 368p. illus. ISBN 9780500286715. pap. $29.95. Fine Arts
Thames & Hudson continues its celebration of all things Hockney with this affordable paperback reprint of a 2004 edition. The title shows close to 44 years of the British artist’s “creative evolution” (up to 2004—he continues to paint, observe, create). The more than 300 images, including drawings, paintings, watercolors, prints, and photography, were selected and organized by Hockney himself. The images are accompanied by the artist’s musings on life, art, and ways of seeing and being.

strollspushkinSinyavsky, Andrei. Strolls with Pushkin. Russian Library: Columbia Univ. 2016. 304p. tr. from Russian by Slava I. Yastremski & Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy. notes. ISBN 9780231180801. $40; pap. ISBN 9780231180818. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780231543279. LIT
Sinyavsky’s novel,written as Abram Tertz, was penned in the 1960s while he was incarcerated in Dubrovlag, a Soviet labor camp, and smuggled out in letters to his wife. This “irreverent portrait” of Alexander Pushkin was the author’s attempt to break him out of the cult of personality imposed by the Soviet regime (Pushkin was the national poet of the Stalin period). This expanded edition of Nepomnyashchy and Yastremski’s award-winning 1994 translation includes an annotated, scholarly introduction by Nepomnyashchy, who was a Russian professor at Barnard College before she died in 2015. (Yastremski, Russian, Bucknell Univ., also died in 2015.) The introduction discusses Sinyavsky’s life and literary career, as well as that of Pushkin. Copious notes on the text and translation appear at the end, as does a newly translated later essay Sinyavsky wrote about Pushkin, “Journey to the River Black.” Michael M. Naydan (Woskob Family Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Pennsylvania State Univ.) provides a touching tribute to both translators.

Short Takes

blocksinnermanBlock, Lawrence. Sinner Man. Hard Case Crime. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781785651342. $22.99; pap. ISBN 9781785650017. $9.95; ebk. ISBN 9781785650024. F
This novel, written by the much-decorated mystery author Block, was held for eight years then released under a fake name. Now for the first time in nearly 50 years, Block’s first crime novel gets the Hard Case treatment, including a jazzy sexy cover (by Michael Koelsch) and revisions and a new afterword by the author.

Bude, John. The Cheltenham Square Murder. Jan. 2017. 278p. ISBN 9781464206696. ebk. ISBN 9781464206702.
Bude, John. The Lake District Murder. Dec. 2016. 298p. ISBN 9781464206535. ebk. ISBN 9781464206542.
ea. vol: British Crime Classics: Poisoned Pen. pap. $12.95. Mys

Bude, the pseudonym of Ernest Elmore (1901–57), was a cofounder of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and a theater producer and director. Both of the above titles were written in the mid-1930s and feature Superintendent Meredith of the Sussex County Police solving crimes in picturesque English settings.

Crofts, Freeman Wills. Mystery in the Channel. Jan. 2017. 278p. bibliog. ISBN 9781464206719. pap. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464206726. Mys
Crofts was one of the preeminent writers in the golden age of British crime fiction, as British crime novelist, vice chair, and CWA archivist Martin Edwards notes in this book’s introduction. This novel features a maritime mystery starring Crofts’s popular (but plodding) sleuth, Insp. Joseph French.

parisjohnnyFoster, John. Take Me to Paris, Johnny. Text Classics. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781925355345. pap. $14.95. Memoir
Australian historian Foster’s memoir of life and love with his partner, Juan, a struggling young Cuban dancer, starts in 1981. They live together in New York, travel around the world, and confront AIDS when Juan contracts the disease. This title was published in 1993, shortly before Foster’s own death from AIDS.

Rand, Paul. Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art. Princeton Architectural. 2016. 256p. illus. notes. ISBN 9781616894863. $50. Dec arts
Rand (1914–96), “the most influential American graphic designer of the twentieth century,” gives insight into his process and theory in 27 essays (with more than 200 illustrations). This reprint of Rand’s 1985 monograph includes a new afterword by art critic/author/former New York Times art director Steven Heller.

Soupault, Philippe. Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism. City Lights. 2016. 112p. tr. from French by Alan Bernheimer. photos. notes. ISBN 9780872867277. pap. $13.95. fine arts
Long-lived French poet and writer Soupault (1897–1990) joined the Dada movement when it first broke, is credited as a cofounder (with André Breton) of surrealism, and was friends with such modernist luminaries as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Guillaume Apollinaire. This collection of reminiscences, first published in 1963, is newly translated by poet Bernheimer, with an afterword by poet Ron Padgett, who tells of meeting Soupault in 1975. Also includes a preface by Breton biographer Mark Polizzotti.

Sylvester, David. Interviews with Francis Bacon. Thames & Hudson. 2016. 232p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780500292532. pap. $24.95. Fine arts
Originally published in 1987, this collection contains interviews with artist Francis Bacon (1909–92)  by art critic Sylvester (1924–2001) that took place from 1962 to 1986. Long considered a classic, this book provides a look inside the mind of one of the most creative geniuses of the 20th century.

Reading in French

demaup-likedeathde Maupassant, Guy. Like Death. NYRB Classics. Jan. 2017. 240p. tr. from French by Richard Howard. ISBN 9781681370323. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681370330. LIT
Notable 19th-century journalist, novelist, memoirist, playwright, and Flaubert protégé de Maupassant was most famous for his short stories. This novel, originally published in 1889, is now available for the first time in over a century in a translation by poet Howard (A Progressive Education). It tells the story of Olivier Bertin, a famous Parisian portraitist; his mistress of 20 years, Anne; and Anne’s daughter, Annette.

de Sade, Marquis. The 120 Days of Sodom. Penguin Classics. 2016. 464p. tr. from French by Will McMorran & Thomas Wynn. ISBN 9780141394343. pap. $18. lit
The backstory of de Sade’s original manuscript is nearly as fascinating as the text itself: While imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris, de Sade wrote this work on a scroll and concealed it in a copper cylinder. When he was moved from the prison, the pages were left behind. de Sade was convinced it was lost forever, possibly burned in the Storming of the Bastille. But the scroll was wending its way through aristocrats and smugglers, erotica collectors and sexologists, de Sade’s descendants, an unscrupulous family friend, a private collector, and finally, back to France in 2014. This new translation by McMorran (French & comparative lit, Queen Mary Univ., London) and Wynn (French, Sch. of Modern Languages & Cultures, Durham Univ.) includes a chronology, an informative and shocking annotated introduction, translators’ note, and further reading suggestions.

dumas-redsphinxDumas, Alexandre. The Red Sphinx: A Sequel to The Three Musketeers. Pegasus. Jan. 2017. 824p. ed. by Lawrence Ellsworth. tr. from French by Lawrence Ellsworth. illus. ISBN 9781681772974. $26.95. LIT
This hefty “forgotten sequel” to The Three Musketeers picks up right where Dumas’s 1844 swashbuckler left off, continuing the stories of Cardinal Richelieu, Queen Anne, and Louis XIII, and adding a new hero, the Comte de Moret, a real-life historical figure from that time period (and illegitimate half brother to the king). Dumas wrote 75 chapters of The Red Sphinx, but never finished it; the novel was shelved for nearly a century before its publication (as Le Comte de Moret) in France in 1946. Now combined with The Dove, a separate novella recounting the final adventures of Richelieu and Moret, this edition includes a witty and informative list of dramatis personae and discussion of the novel’s publication history by Ellsworth (aka author and gamer Lawrence Schick).

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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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