Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, April 5, 2013

Week ending April 5, 2013

starred review starArnaudo, Marco. The Myth of the Superhero. Johns Hopkins. May 2013. 216p. tr. from Italian by Jamie Richards. bibliog. ISBN 9781421409108. $50; pap. ISBN 9781421409535. $24.95. LIT
Arnaudo’s (Italian, director of graduate studies, Indiana Univ.) discussion focuses on the influences of myth, religion, epic storytelling, and classical ideology in the superhero genre by dissecting its contributions to aspects of human morality and decision-making. His theoretical approach is accessible enough to draw in both comics book enthusiasts as well as cultural critics. Devotees will appreciate the emphasis on mainstream superheroes, showcasing theories of their favorite icons rather than fringe characters. Smartly organized chapters make for easy reference. While the analysis may not be breaking new ground, it serves as a good introduction to literary discussions; an illuminating read for fans.
Verdict Best suited for students of literary studies looking for cultural and ideological analysis; the general reader will glean useful insight into Superman’s psyche.—Matthew Gallagher, Victoria, BC

Lerer, Seth. Prospero’s Son: Life, Books, Love, and Theater. Univ. of Chicago. Apr. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780226014418. $20. MEMOIR
Here Lerer (dean, arts & humanities, Univ. of California, San Diego; Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter) explores the healing and enlightening powers of literature as he seeks resolution after his mostly absent father’s death. Through judicious quotes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest juxtaposed against heartbreaking tales of abandonment and neglect, Lerer shows how art can illuminate the bitterness of past disappointments and light a way to a better future through association with like-minded souls. The author acknowledges a debt both stylistic and spiritual to Oliver Sacks’s Uncle Tungsten. While lacking the elegance of that work, Lerer’s work displays a heartfelt enthusiasm for his favorite works of theater. As well, the skill with which he portrays his father’s devastating parental shortcomings without flinching but also with warmth and compassion make this an effective work.
Verdict A testament to Lerer’s passion for his work, this wise, literary, and allusion-dense book will strike a sympathetic chord with all involved in teaching or reading literature.—John Frank, Los Angeles P.L.

Sloan, Aisha Sabatini. The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White. Univ. of Iowa. Apr. 2013. 130p. ISBN 9781609381608. pap. $19.95. MEMOIR
Here Sloan, the daughter of an African American father and Italian American mother, writes of her experiences growing up in the 1980s and 1990s in Southern California. In each chapter, she weaves an autobiographical thread with her experience of a person, thing, or event that impacted her life: Thelonious Monk, the story of Pinocchio, the African diaspora in Minnesota, the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Each chapter also takes place in a key location—Detroit, London, Paris, Brooklyn, Italy, South Africa—and each place brings its own significance to bear on the author. In spite of her youth, Sloan provides a valuable perspective on the mixed-race, Generation X experience. She describes herself as a child “black enough” to become angry at a teacher who confused her with the only other black girl in her class, but “not quite black enough to know how to talk right around real black people.”
Verdict Beautifully written, this book will appeal to a general audience, in particular those interested in memoir as a literary form.—Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL

starred review starVolk, Patricia. Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780307962102. $26.95. MEMOIR
Novelist and memoirist Volk’s (To My Dearest Friends) sophisticated vision unfolds with the study of two very different but very glamorous women—her mother, Audrey, an upper-class New York domestic goddess with the looks and manners of Grace Kelly, and genius haute couture European artist Elsa Schiaparelli, whose book, art, and (yes) perfume forever change the course of young Volk’s life. As funny as it is poignant, Volk’s work employs a combination of words to live by, rich vignettes, and photographs to show how she learned what it meant to be a woman and how all it takes is one book to transform a young person’s world. Full of high fashion, mink furs, and family, the book manages to weave a tale that is sure to stick with readers long after the last page.
Verdict Perfect for anyone who loved Volk’s first autobiographical effort, Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family, or who enjoys the work of memoirists like Jeannette Walls or Grace Coddington.—Melissa Culbertson, Homewood, IL

Zarra, Ernest. Teacher–Student Relationships: Crossing into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms. Rowman & Littlefield. 2013. 199p. notes. ISBN 9781475802368. $65; pap. ISBN 9781475802375. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781475802382. ED
High school teacher and education theorist Zarra investigates how young adult brains process emotions and how the use of technology impacts mental maturity. In rethinking how educators address the topic, Zarra provides guidelines for creating boundaries between students and teachers that simultaneously strengthen their relationships in appropriate ways. His discussion extends to topics of developing character in children and how the brain development of children influences their interaction with educators later in life. Readers of Thomas Lickona’s Character Matters and Educating for Character as well as Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind and Brain-Based Learning will find Zarra’s intersections useful.
Verdict The practical guidelines mostly boil down to common sense; however, the author illuminates the topic with neuroscientific research that stages a forum for a continued dialog.—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY

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"