Arts & Humanities Reviews, September 1, 2012

starred review star Niemann, Christoph. Abstract City. Abrams. 2012. 256p. illus. ISBN 9781419702075. $24.95. GRAPHIC ARTS

This title is a compilation of the 16 essays originally published in Niemann’s (regular contributor, The New Yorker, New York Times, Wired; That’s How!) eponymous visual blog for The New York Times, which ran from 2008 to early 2011. The appeal of Neimann’s work resides in his ability to capture absurdities in everyday life, much like the classic New Yorker art of Saul Steinberg. Subways and road maps are frequent topics in Niemann’s illustrations, in which the directional symbols become metaphors for songs, games, dance steps, and foods. In this book, Niemann’s visual essays—which are, in fact, lists, figures, and charts created with drawings, computer graphics, and photographed objects—present his perceptions of New York City in thought-provoking ways; for example, one diagram describes how to poke a muffin from the side to test for freshness; another group of small Lego sculptures illustrate different coffee drinks. VERDICT A masterpiece of sophisticated humor, this is a brilliant, one-of-a-kind work that will interest readers who enjoy compilations of comic strips and magazine art.—Eric Linderman, Willoughby-Eastlake P.L., Willowick, OH

starred review star Passarello, Elena. Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays. Sarabande, dist. by Consortium. Oct. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781936747528. $22.95; pap. ISBN 9781936747450. $15.95. LIT

In a brilliant combination of rigorous study and conversational tone, actor and essayist Passarello has created a remarkably entertaining and thought-provoking look at the human voice and all of its myriad functions and sounds. In the same fascinating way Oliver Sacks explores scientific curiosities, Passarello has taken something so ubiquitous yet unheralded—the dynamics of the human voice—and crafted more than a dozen engaging essays about it. Covering topics as varied as the memorable but almost assaultive tones of Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope, the blast of discomfiting sound delivered by then–presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2004, a brief but moving portrait of Judy Garland and her 1961 Carnegie Hall concert, and a wonderful piece called “Playing Sick” about the childishly glorious sound of “eew,” this collection is an insightful treasure trove, reflecting the author’s love and awe of what the human voice can contain. ­VERDICT Few books explore one idea so completely from such a variety of seemingly disparate angles. A wonderful collection for any reader and every library. Highly recommended.—­Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA

starred review star The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Oct. 2012. c.320p. ed. by Kevin Young. ISBN 9781608195510. $24. POETRY

“The world begins at a kitchen table,” Joy Harjo says at the beginning of this anthology, edited by National Book Award finalist Young, featuring poems in homage to all things comestible. In his introduction, Young says that the making of poems is akin to the making of a meal—both are acts of creation and sustenance. While poetry may be more permanent, with each making the eater and reader consume beauty, internalize it, and thrive. “This anthology revels in the many tastes all around us, some of which we need poetry to help describe,” says Young. Indeed, the selections represent a wide range of the world’s renowned poets, from Elizabeth Alexander to Paul Zimmer, from Baudelaire to Belieu, and celebrate topics as varied as picking blackberries, eating beans, and drinking beer for breakfast. Young includes a poem “with a cucumber in it” as well as Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California.” There are poems about pork and pot roasts, coffee and cookies and cola. The book is arranged from fall harvest to sumptuous summer, so that “the cycle of life is shown here in its ups and downs—as only poetry can.” Or, as Li-Young Lee says, “O, to take what we love inside,/ to carry within us an orchard… .” This anthology is a feast! VERDICT Essential for all poetry collections.—Karla Huston, Wisconsin Acad. of Sciences, Arts & Letters, Madison

The following titles are reviewed in the September print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

To log in to your account, click here. To view the new subscription options, Get Started With Book Verdict Pro Today.

Don’t know if you have an account with us? It’s easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.


Brooks, Ron. Drawn from the Heart. Allen & Unwin, dist. by IPG. 2012. 336p. illus. ISBN 9781742371559. $45. graphic arts

Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties. 2012. 320p. ed. by Achim Hochdörfer. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9783791352053. $60. FINE ARTS

starred review star Strauss, Cindi. Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark & Mark Del Vecchio Collection. Yale Univ. 2012. 496p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300169973. $100. DEC ARTS

Hugo, Pieter. Pieter Hugo: This Must Be the Place. Prestel. 2012. 228p. photogs. ISBN 9783791346892. $60. PHOTOG

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. Furniture Studio: Materials, Craft, & Architecture. Univ. of Washington. 2012. 304p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780295991559. $45. DEC ARTS

Powell, Amy Knight. Depositions: Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum. Zone, dist. by MIT. 2012. 370p. illus. index. ISBN 9781935408208. $34.95. FINE ARTS


Greene, Dana. Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life. Univ. of Illinois. Sept. 2012. c.360p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252037108. $35. LIT

Hass, Robert. What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World. Ecco: HarperCollins. 2012. c.496p. photogs. ISBN 9780061923920. $14.99. LIT

Moyle, Franny. Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. John Murray, dist. by Trafalgar Square. Dec. 2012. c.400p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781605983813. $29.95. LIT

Olsen, Corey. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2012. c.320p. index. ISBN 9780547739465.

Swift, Daniel. Shakespeare’s Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age. Oxford Univ. Oct. 2012. c.304p. index. ISBN 9780199838561. $27.95. LIT

Performing Arts

Kelly, Deirdre. Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection. Greystone: Douglas & McIntyre, dist. by PGW. Oct. 2012. c.256p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781926812663. $27.95. DANCE

Kohen, Yael. We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Oct. 2012. c.336p. index. ISBN 9780374287238. $27. TV

Mann, William J. Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2012. c.567p. photogs. ISBN 9780547368924. $30. MUSIC


Ngai, Sianne. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting. Harvard Univ. Oct. 2012. c.348p. illus. index. ISBN 9780674046580. $39.95. PHIL


starred review star Clifton, Lucille. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010. BOA, dist. by Consortium. (American Poets Continuum Series, No. 134). Sept. 2012. c.720p. ed. by Kevin Young & Michael S. Glaser. ISBN 9781934414903. $35. POETRY

Keith, Sally. The Fact of the Matter. Milkweed. Nov. 2012. c.63p. ISBN 9781571314482. pap. $16. POETRY

starred review star Neruda, Pablo. All the Odes: A Bilingual Edition. Farrar. Nov. 2012. c.880p. ed. by Ilan Stavens. index. ISBN 9780374115289. $50. POETRY

Revell, Donald. Tantivy. Alice James. Sept. 2012. c.80p. ISBN 9781882295975. pap. $15.95. POETRY


Hazony, Yoram. The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. Cambridge Univ. Sept. 2012. c.368p. index. ISBN 9781107003170. $75; pap. ISBN 9780521176675. $24.99. REL

starred review star Neel, Douglas E. & Joel A. Pugh. The Food and Feasts of Jesus: Inside the World of First-Century Food with Menus and Recipes. Rowman & Littlefield. Sept. 2012. c.232p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442212909. $39.95. REL

Three Testaments: Torah, Gospel, and Quran. Rowman & Littlefield. 2012. c.690p. ed. by Brian Arthur Brown. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442214927. $65. REL