Nonfiction Previews, Dec. 2012, Pt. 2: Tony Bennett, Violins, and Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Barnett, Richard. The Book of Gin: A Spirited World History from Alchemists’ Stills and Colonial Outposts to Gin Palaces, Bathtub Gin, and Artisanal Cocktails. Grove. Dec. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780802120434; eISBN 9780802194091. $24. BEVERAGES
Initially made by monks, it was used to ease the pain of childbirth and prevent plague during the medieval era; mixed with crushed pearls and rose petals, it was the drink of kings; stirred up illegally in a bathtub, it was sometimes lethal during Prohibition. It’s gin, and it is reportedly making a comeback (though I think I’ll skip the crushed pearls). A cultural history called truly enjoyable by the UK’s CLASS Magazine.

Bennett, Tony. Life Is a Gift: The Zen of Bennett. Harper: HarperCollins. Dec. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780062207067. $27.99. lrg print. MEMOIR
Not your standard memoir, this book proceeds through Bennett’s life as he examines how his music has evolved over a six-decade career that has seen a relentless march of styles and stars. He also explains what he’s learned from those stars, who range from Frank Sinatra to Mariah Carey. Yes, there’s an audience; note the 100,000-copy first printing.

Benvenuto, Christine. Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780312649500. $25.99. MEMOIR
What do you do when you’re long married with three young children and your husband announces that he want to change his gender? How do you guide the children, tell the neighbors, and make yourself whole again? Here’s a memoir reportedly both heartbreaking and hilarious and ultimately inspiring without acting all rosy throughout. That Benvenuto is an established author of fiction, nonfiction, and essays suggests that the writing will be not gooey but good.

Forrest, Alan. Napoleon: Life, Legacy, and Image: A Biography. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9781250009036. $27.99. BIOGRAPHY
A preeminent historian, particularly of modern French history‚ he’s director of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York and serves on the editorial boards of French History and War in History‚ Forrest seems like the right man to write a biography of Napoleon. Lots of biographies, so let’s assess, but the aim here is evidently to dig beneath the myths.

Light, Alan. The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah. Atria: S. & S. Dec. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781451657845. $25. MUSIC
Recorded by everyone from Bono to Justin Timberlake to Susan Boyle, familiar to those who have seen Shrek and The West Sing, and used both for post-9/11 tributes and the telethon to raise money for Haiti after the earthquake, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is one of the most recognizable songs in rock history. It wasn’t always thus. Rolling Stone senior editor Light tells its story. Fits right in with all those other rock books this fall.

Lukacs, Paul. Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures. Norton. Dec. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780393064520. $28.95. BEVERAGES
This book by James Beard, IACP, and Clicquot Book of the Year award winner Lukacs does something a little different. Instead of covering the various vintages, it gives us a history of wine’s 8000 years, starting with the thin, sour brew of Homer’s era. It was not until the time of the Sun King that wine moved from homely necessity to palate-pleasing luxury. Intriguing cultural history.

Norcross, John. C. Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. S. & S. Dec. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781451657616 . $24. PSYCHOLOGY
Stop smoking. Slim down. Exit that awful relationship. Not easy. A board-certified psychologist and Distinguished University Fellow at the University of Scranton, the author of more than 300 publications and the coauthor or editor of 22 professional books, Norcross has spent his career researching how people change their behavior and is here to tell you. He’s got a 90-day plan, backed by a free interactive website and entailing five steps: Psyche (get ready), Plan (prepare before leaping), Perspire (take action), Persevere (manage slips), and Persist (maintain change). Hope springs eternal; the publisher’s big book for the month.

Passman, Donald S. All You Need To Know About the Music Business. 8th ed. Free Pr: S. & S. Dec. 2012. 480p. ISBN 9781451682465. $32. REFERENCE
Last published in 2009 and coming up on its silver anniversary, this book is an essential resource for anyone in the music business or wanting to make it there‚ not just musicians and songwriters but agents, promoters, managers, and entertainment lawyers. The eighth edition offers not just updated statistics but information regarding new legislation (e.g., on digital rights), new business models (e.g., streaming services), and more.

Schoenbaum, David. The Violin: A Social History of the World’s Most Versatile Instrument. Norton. Dec. 2012. 672p. ISBN 9780393084405. $39.95. MUSIC
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that no instrument matched the violin for universality and expressiveness, and given its use in everything from chamber music to klezmer to indie rock, he could well be right. The author has been a committed amateur violinist for 60 years, so he’ll offer some nice perspective on the joys of playing the violin even as he scans its history from the instrument of kings to its bargaining-chip power during the Cold War to its current appeal to Asian foundations and post-Soviet billionaires alike.

Steadman, Ralph. The Ralph Steadman Book of Cats. Houghton. 96p. Dec. 2012. ISBN 978-0547594002. $24. PETS/CARTOONS
You’ll immediately recognize‚ and likely relish‚ Steadman’s rangy and contentious-looking cats. But it’s humbling to realize that he has illustrated a spread of books that include Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the 50th-anniversary edition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. With 150 four-color illustrations; Steadman’s work is classic.

Styron, William. Selected Letters of William Styron. Random. Dec. 2012. 672p. ISBN 9781400068067. $40. LITERATURE
Edited by Rose Styron, a commendable poet and Styron’s wife, with C. Vann Woodward Prize winner R. Blakeslee Gilpin, this selection of letters ranges from Styron’s ninth year until his death and includes never-before-seen correspondence with the likes of Norman Mailer, Jackie Kennedy, Carlos Fuentes, and Philip Roth. Not a huge printing, but literati will value; it’s humbling that this selected volume is nearly 700 pages long.

Trillin, Calvin. Dogfight: An Occasionally Interrupted Narrative Poem About the Presidential Campaign. Random. Dec. 2012. 128p. ISBN 9780812993684. $16. HUMOR
Never mind the poetry reference in the title; this is Trillin, so of course it is classed as humor. The Nation‘s Deadline Poet deals wittily with the upcoming election, assaying not just Obama and Mitt, but Newt, Santorum, and the rest while ranging over Tea Party tactics, Obamacare vs. Romneycare, and bad moments on live television. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.