Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, February 1, 2013

Week ending February 1, 2013

starred review starAmerican Odysseys: Writings by New Americans. Vilcek Fdn.: Dalkey Archive. Feb. 2013. 600p. ISBN 9781564788061. pap. $16. LIT
In 2011, the Vilcek Foundation solicited work for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in the Arts from nonnative writers living and working as writers in the United States. The result was a surprisingly high number of applications from both established and emerging young authors. With so many deserving winners and only one prize, the decision to publish an anthology was welcomed by all. Among those represented is Vilcek Prize winner Dinaw Mengetsu (How To Read the Air) and the four finalists Ilya Kaminsky (Dancing in Odessa), Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife), Vu Tran, and Simon Van Booy (Everything Beautiful Began After; The Secret Lives of People in Love). Oddly, the title implies new Americans telling the story of an American odyssey. However, the writings here are a mosaic of cultural experiences taking place both within and without the United States; as strangers writing in a common language—English—the authors do capture a new kind of writing, and they are all new Americans. The work’s literary landscape ranges from ruminations on the echoes of Mandalstam in the streets of St. Petersburg to memories of an unsettling childhood in Pablo Escobar’s Bogotá. A whirlwind of personalities steeped in cultural acuity add a new interpretation to the immigrant story. Selections from 22 novelists, short story writers, and poets—all nonnative born and under the age of 38—create an original collection that reflects how language acts as the sole expression of universal experience. Serbian-born Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry Charles Simic remarks on the experience of the immigrant poet: if a poet writes because he knows his life is meaningless if he doesn’t, faced with what language to use when writing a poem is a matter of great choice, one that possibly determines a life.
Verdict Recommended for all lit collections and for readers who appreciate the immigrant voice as the original pulse of storytelling in America. [See Editors’ Picks, LJ 2/15/13, p. 31.]—Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal

Charan, Ram. Global Tilt: Mastering the Inevitable Shift of Economic Power. Crown Business. 2013. 336p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307889126. $28. ECON
Best-selling author Charan (Execution; What the CEO Wants You To Know) offers readers an insider’s view on how business and wealth has shifted from North America and Europe to points geographically south. The book is largely case studies on corporate partnerships in a global marketplace over the last 20 years. Charan begins by outlining the swing of global commerce into China, India, the Middle East, and Africa, nodding to the growth of these countries’ emerging youthful, urban middle class. He follows with practical advice for businesses to succeed as the tilt continues. While grounded in basic economic principles, Charan’s perspective offers a first-person look at the next iteration of the global economy.
Verdict Stories of how Fortune 500 companies are adapting to new markets gives the reader some footing; otherwise, an unusually dense text discerning global trends in the marketplace.—John Rodzvilla, Emerson Coll., Boston

Cullen, Jim. Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions. Oxford Univ. 2013. 264p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780199927661. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780199323883. FILM
As Cullen (Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition) argues in this study, collective ideas and myths about history can be powerful enough to mold on an almost subconscious level a nation’s daily lives. To demonstrate, he discusses the career arcs of six Hollywood stars—Clint Eastwood, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Jodie Foster—and identifies what he calls “master narratives” of U.S. history that gradually emerged from their bodies of work. Cullen’s film analysis is down to earth yet sharp as he teases out common themes among seemingly divergent films. Still, he is not always mindful in adequately explaining the historical narratives themselves, with certain chapters relying too much upon biographical details. When Cullen properly balances analysis and context, the results are quite striking, including an outstanding chapter on the bonds between Day-Lewis’s films and historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s classic frontier thesis. Moreover, while this book is an academic work, Cullen’s approach is accessible as he outlines how historical thinking can work on an everyday level.
Verdict Students of American history and popular culture will benefit from Cullen’s creative scholarship.—Chris Martin, North Dakota State Univ. Libs., Fargo

Myers, Marc. Why Jazz Happened. Univ. of California. 2012. 248p. index. ISBN 9780520268784. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9780520953987. MUSIC
Here, jazz critic Myers tells the story of the development of jazz from 1942 to 1972. The author’s focus, in contrast to most jazz history books currently available, is on how sociological phenomena and a variety of complex and intertwined developments in the music industry (e.g., radio, recording companies, the American Federation of Musicians, and performing rights licensing agencies) as well as society as a whole affected and in some cases drove the development of bebop, cool jazz, West Coast jazz, avant-garde jazz, the Afro-centric jazz of the 1960s, and jazz rock. The research is solid, the documentation is strong, the writing style is engaging and readable, and the complex relationships are well developed and explained. Just don’t be fooled by the title: this is not a book about the origins of jazz.
Verdict A thoroughly compelling study of jazz music and the sociological and economic forces essential to the genre’s development from 1942 to 1972. An essential volume for any jazz fan.—James E. Perone, Univ. of Mount Union, Alliance, OH

Plantenga, Bart. Yodel in Hi-Fi: From Kitsch Folk to Contemporary Electronica. Univ. of Wisconsin. 2013. 316p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780299290542. pap. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9780299290535. MUSIC
With this companion volume to his previous (and seemingly comprehensive) Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, freelance writer, Amsterdam radio-show host, and American expat Plantenga is becoming theAlan Lomax of not just the yodeling world but yodeling worldwide. This time around, he devotes his attention to the under-the-radar yodeling hoi polloi, whose prodigious talents are imbuing yodeling with contemporary relevance. Chock-full of both amusing and informative sidebars, pictures, and accessible text that is both quasi-academic and popular, Plantenga’s book wends its musicological way across a diverse cultural spectrum that includes everything from yodeling’s traditional Bavarian alpine roots to a multinational cast of yodelers from Japan, Asia, various Arabic nations, Hawaii, and Latin America, along with the obligatory Europeans.
Verdict Let’s be honest, for most readers, yodeling is the Rodney Dangerfield of musical expression. Yet in a loving and thorough way that weds a fan’s intense devotion with a scholar’s desire for comprehensiveness, Plantenga is single-handedly changing entrenched yodeling stereotypes. Strongly recommended for musicologists and music hipsters everywhere.—Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX

starred review starProkofiev, Sergey. Diaries 1924–1933: Prodigal Son. Cornell Univ. 2013. 1152p. tr. from Russian by Anthony Phillips. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780801452109. $60. MUSIC
This monumental volume is the third and final collection of Prokofiev’s diaries and covers the years 1924–33, when the composer and pianist was living primarily in Paris. Those familiar with Prokofiev’s distinctive musical vocabulary—challenging yet accessible, often with a sardonic undertone—will find these traits reflected in his prose. Prokofiev was at the center of a vibrant Russian émigré society that included such luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Serge Koussevitzky, and Sergei Diaghilev, and he meticulously documents the artistic and social scene with a thoughtful and clear-eyed candor, which even extends to his relationship with his temperamental wife, the Spanish singer Lina Llubera. Prokofiev suffered no fools and was never shy about offering frank opinion; readers will delight at his many witty putdowns of his contemporaries and their works. The diaries also strikingly reveal his sincere dedication to Christian Science beliefs and practices. One may at times become overwhelmed by the voluminous amount of minutiae, though Phillips’s extensive annotations are very helpful in identifying the lesser-known figures who populated Prokofiev’s world. Taken as a whole, the diaries show Prokofiev at a crossroads: a prodigiously talented composer and pianist in the prime of his artistic life, who enjoyed the fame and freedom that Western Europe and America offered but felt increasingly and inexorably drawn to his homeland, which he considered the ultimate source of his creative energy, despite the oppressive nature of the Soviet regime.
Verdict This volume should join its predecessors on the shelves of all music collections.—Larry Lipkis, Moravian Coll., Bethlehem, PA

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"