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

Current & Recurrent Events | Classic Returns

Many of the books in this edition of “Classic Returns” are all too timely, dealing with Russian spycraft, religious and political intolerance, incarceration, black power movements, and perceptions of deaf people. It’s not all super serious though; nonagenarian Diana Athill’s travelog larks through 1940s Italy; Stacey Bishop “kills” his critics; fairy-tale scholar Maria Tatar presents international riffs on Beauty and the Beast; and Hollywood photographer Douglas Kirkland looks back on a dazzling star-filled career. All this and Alan Watts’s East-West musings, a British band bio, and a banker’s French escape await readers of reissues, reprints, and anniversary editions.

Athill.FlorenceAthill, Diana. A Florence Diary. House of Anansi. Apr. 2017. 80p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781487002206. $16.95. TRAV
Seventy years ago, acclaimed UK author, memoirist (Instead of a Letter; After a Funeral; Alive, Alive Oh!) and editor Athill (b. 1917) traveled to post–World War II Florence, Italy, with her cousin Pen. This recently discovered diary tells of their adventures during a two-week vacation, charmingly capturing a long-lost time. Archival photos of the places she visited (not taken by the author) accompany the slim volume’s text.

Bishop, Stacey. Death in the Dark. Locked Room International. Mar. 2017. 190p. ISBN 9781537598024. pap. $24.99. Mys
This “locked-room” whodunit, written by avant-garde composer George Antheil (1900–59) under the pseudonym of Bishop, is what crime novelist Martin Edwards calls a “revenge novel” in his introduction. The author-composer, who also coinvented (with actress Hedy Lamarr) a precursor to wireless technology, used a jet propeller and police siren in his musical pieces. A performance of his Ballet méchanique at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1927 went horribly wrong (the propeller blew audience members’ hats and programs away; the siren went off at the wrong moment) and was ravaged by critics. The enraged and dejected Antheil returned to Europe with revenge on his mind. In 1930, British publisher Faber & Faber released Death in the Dark, which kills off all the (thinly disguised) persons whom Antheil/Bishop blamed for the failed concert. An afterword by avant-garde music scholar Mauro Piccinini connects the dots for readers.

Beauty.Beast.TatarBeauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World. Penguin Classics. Mar. 2017. 196p. ed. by Maria Tatar. ISBN 9780143111696. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101992951. LIT
This book is for those who can’t get enough “beast and beauty” stories, and for moviegoers looking forward to the new 3–D movie musical starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Fairy-tale scholar Tatar (John L. Loeb Professor of Folklore and Mythology and Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard Univ.) collects tales from ancient times to the present and from diverse cultures, all on the theme of human/beast love. There are cranes, turtles, monkeys, warthogs, goats, dogs, lizards, even bears in this volume, and Tatar provides academic commentary and suggestions for further reading.

Berkman.AnarchistBerkman, Alexander. Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. AK Pr. Jan. 2017. 522p. ed. by Jessica Moran & Barry Pateman. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781849352529. $24. POLI SCI/MEMOIR
This new edition of a “classic of prison literature” written by Berkman (1870–1936), who attempted to assassinate businessman Henry Clay Frick for his role in suppressing the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike in Pittsburgh, chronicles the author’s 14 years at Pennsylvania’s notorious Western State Penitentiary. This memoir was originally released by Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth Publishing Association, in 1912, six years after Berkman was freed. This version contains Berkman’s previously unpublished diary, which he kept while he wrote his memoir. Wikipedia notes that this account is one of the first to depict homosexuality in prison. Lovingly, painstakingly annotated and introduced by the editors of Emma Goldman: A Documentary History and Kate Sharpley Library collective members Pateman (Chomsky on Anarchism) and Moran, who is also an LJ reviewer.

Kirkland.FreezeFrame2Kirkland, Douglas. Freeze Frame: Second Cut. Glitterati. Apr. 2017. 368p. photos. filmog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781943876433. $125. PHOTOG
The tenth anniversary edition of Hollywood-based art and celebrity photographer Kirkland’s collection expands on the original with 190 new photographs, a larger format (10″ x 13″), and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from the shoots and movie sets. Kirkland worked for Life and Look magazines during the “golden age of photojournalism” in the 1960s–70s, photographing such superstars as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and both Audrey and Katharine Hepburn. With an introduction by Italian film director Cristina Comencini and commentary by his wife and business partner, Françoise Kirkland, the anthology is organized by decade, from the 1960s through “2000+.” The backstories are lively and serve to humanize his many larger-than-life subjects. This book is a treasure trove for classic movie fans and photography buffs.

Neill.FacesNeill, Andy. Had Me a Real Good Time: Faces Before, During, and After. Overlook Omnibus. Feb. 2017. 528p. photos. discog. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781468314427. pap. $29.95. MUSIC
Music writer, researcher, and historian Neill (Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who; Across the Universe: The Beatles on Tour and on Stage) updates his 2011 band biography of the Faces, one of Britain’s best-loved bands. Band members came from the Small Faces and the Jeff Beck Band and provided an “antidote” to the slick disco and glam rock of the 1970s. This title follows the formation of the group in London and its wild times, then goes beyond that to cover individual careers, most notably that of lead singer Rod Stewart, who went on to become one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. This new edition includes a original chapter on the solo career and legacy of keyboardist Ian “Mac” MacLagan, who died in 2014.

Rhodes.Bk.PanthersRhodes, Jane. Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon. Univ. of Illinois. Feb. 2017. 404p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252082641. pap. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252099649. SOC SCI
Rhodes (African American studies, Univ. of Illinois; Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century) contributes a new preface to her 2007 treatise on the Black Panther movement, with photos of former U.S. president Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and musical artist Beyoncé. She also includes much discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement and various films (documentary and otherwise) about the group. Rhodes’s work probes the Black Panthers’ longtime relationship to the media and their skillful manipulation of imagery, as well as their lasting effect on African American protest movements.

Shakesp.MerchantShakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Pelican Shakespeare. Mar. 2017. 160p. ed. by A.R. Braunmuller. notes. ISBN 9780143130222. pap. $9. LIT
Pelican Shakespeare editor and UCLA professor (comparative lit & English) Braunmuller provides an informative introduction (which addresses the anti-Semitism of the playwright’s portrayal of Shylock, among other things) and copious notes on every page of the play. Also included are two essays: “The Theatrical World” and “The Texts of Shakespeare,” both of which have further reading recommendations on the subject. The cover design by Manuja Waldia riffs on perhaps the most famous line in Merchant: “And where thou now exacts the penalty/ Which is a pound of this poor merchant’s flesh.”

DeafMute.SwettSwett, William B. Adventures of a Deaf-Mute and Other Short Pieces. Gallaudet Univ. (Classics in Deaf Studies, Vol. 10). Feb. 2017. 128p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781563686832. pap. $24.95. MEMOIR
Swett (1824–84), who is the “deaf-mute” of the title, worked as a handyman for several seasons at Profile House, a hotel located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. He wrote of his adventures in the surrounding area and also of his reception by hearing people at the hotel. His observations and exploits were originally published serially in Deaf-Mutes’ Friend, a monthly journal, in the 1860s. This volume also features an annotated introduction by “Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies” series editor Kristen C. Harmon. Part 2 of this book contains “Mr. Swett and His Diorama,” an article from 1869 in which the author describes his miniature re-creation of the Battle of Lexington and “Manual Alphabets and Their History, with Sketches, Illustrations, and Varieties,” a pamphlet published in 1875.

Voltaire.TolerationVoltaire. Treatise on Toleration. Penguin Classics. Feb. 2017. 208p. tr. from French by Desmond M. Clarke. notes. ISBN 9780241236628. pap.$14. PHIL
After Toulouse merchant Jean Calas was falsely accused of murdering his son and executed on the wheel in 1762, Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (b.1694 as François-Marie Arouet) began a campaign to vindicate Calas and his family. The resulting treatise is a cry against fanaticism (Calas had been persecuted by “an irrational mob” because he was a Protestant) and a plea for understanding. Translator Clarke provides an introduction and annotations to this work, which the Guardian reported began to climb the French best seller lists after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Also included is a chronology of Voltaire’s life and a further-reading list.

Watts.Psycho.East.WestWatts, Alan. Psychotherapy East and West. New World Library. Feb. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9781608684564. pap. $14.95. PHIL
Counterculture hero, philosopher, writer, and speaker Watts (1915–73) is best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. The British-born author wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy. He also lectured widely at universities and on radio programs. This title, originally published in 1961, explores the relationship between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophies of Buddhism, Vedanta, yoga, and Taoism.

Short Takes

Cameron, Lou. Angel’s Flight. Black Gat: Stark House. Feb. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781944520182. pap. $9.99. Mys
Prodigious author Cameron (1924–2010) wrote over 300 novels in his lifetime, some under his own name and others under pseudonyms. This hard-boiled mystery about a louse in the music biz was his first, written in 1960, and according to the publisher, it’s “like nothing else he wrote…a noir masterpiece crying out for a modern audience.”

Davidson, Lionel. Kolymsky Heights. Faber & Faber. Mar. 2017. 496p. ISBN 9780571333875. pap. $15.95. Mys
This reissue of British writer Davidson’s (The Night of Wenceslas; The Rose of Tibet) 1994 novel is called “the best thriller I’ve ever read” by His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman in the new intro. Set in a Siberian locale “so secret it doesn’t officially exist,” the book is right on time for Russian conspiracy theorists to savor during Black Sea summer vacations.

Mcdonald, Gregory. Snatch. Hard Case Crime: Titan. Feb. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9781785651823. pap. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9781785651830. Mys
From the author of the “Fletch” and “Flynn” books, here are two kidnapping novels, unavailable for decades and reissued together for the first time. Both feature eight-year-old boys: Snatched is set during the 1970s oil crisis; Safekeeping is set during the London Blitz of World War II.

More Classic Returns

Morland.Bank.FranceMorland, Miles. The Man Who Broke Out of the Bank: And Went for a Walk Across France. Bloomsbury USA. Jan. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781408872987. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781408863640. trav
It’s nice to have this walking travelog, first published in 1992, back in print. After giving up his career as an investment banker (or, as he styles it, “shouting down a phone”), Morland (who is English) and his wife, Guislaine (who is French), decided to walk across France through the foothills of the Pyrenees. This mostly charming, occasionally funny, recounting of this journey is interspersed with reminiscences about Morland’s previous life. There is the requisite local color, replete with (somewhat stereotypical) descriptions of rich and wine-laden French meals and the rudeness of the French themselves. Near the middle, Morland seems to get bogged down by the monotony of his adventures and the subsequent chapters become largely interchangeable—one town, one meal, all people—seemingly no different from the previous towns, meals, and people he encounters. VERDICT Though not very informative about the French or how to prepare for a walking tour, this book does a good job of capturing Morland’s experiences across France.—Derek Sanderson, Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY

 

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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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