Nonfiction Previews, Pt. 5: On Johnny Carson, Charlie Parker, and Masterpiece Theatre

Bushkin, Henry. Untitled on Johnny Carson. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780544217621. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544217737. MEMOIR/TELEVISION
Johnny Carson’s attorney for nearly two decades, at a time when the Tonight Show was at its height and Carson went through two divorces, Bushkin ultimately served as his “counselor, partner, employee, business advisor, earpiece, mouthpiece, enforcer, running buddy, tennis pal, drinking and dining companion, and foil,” as he says. Here’s a reputedly psychologically acute account of Carson during those years. The 150,000-copy first printing bespeaks confidence.

Crouch, Stanley. Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. It: HarperCollins. Oct. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9780062005595. $35. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Having been absorbed in the life of jazz great Charlie Parker since the 1970s, when he first began interviewing Parker’s friends and associates, Crouch—a MacArthur Fellow twice nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for his in-depth treatment of the African American experience—offers the first of a two-volume biography.

Eaton, Rebecca. Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! Viking. Oct. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780670015351. $29.95. MEMOIR/TELEVISION
Here’s your chance to learn the secrets of Downton Abbey, Prime Suspect, and more. Eaton has been executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! for more than 25 years and has won plenty of Emmys for her work. I have a feeling that this will be addictive reading.

Fagen, Donald. Eminent Hipsters. Viking. Oct. 2013. 176p. ISBN 9780670025510. $26.95. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. MUSIC/MEMOIR
While at Bard, Fagen formed the famed rock band Steely Dan with Walter Becker, and the rest is gold-plated history. Here he offers portraits of significant influences during his youth, e.g., WEVD all-night jazzman Mort Fega, while also recounting recent events like a cross-country tour with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald. He’s still touring? Then there are fans.

Freeman, John. How To Read a Novelist. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780374173265. pap. $15. LITERARY CRITICISM
Critic par excellence Freeman, whose reviews have appeared in over 200 publications worldwide and who served until recently as editor of Granta, here selects and often revises  novelists’ profiles that he’s written and adds new ones to show us what fiction can do—and what it still means in our media-saturated world. Murakami and Mo Yan, Norman Mailer and Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat and Dave Eggers—they’re all here.

Greig, Geordie. Breakfast with Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780374116484. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374709242. BIOGRAPHY/ART
During his lifetime, the preeminent and ever unsettling British artist Lucian Freud squelched two biographies. But Greig, an editor of the London Evening Standard who regularly breakfasted with Freud, makes up for the loss with this more personal account. Originally scheduled for October 2012.

Leavell, Linda. Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9780374107291. $28. BIOGRAPHY/LITERARY
Having long studied Marianne Moore’s works (she’s responsible for the award-winning Marianne Moore and the Visual Arts), Leavell offers a more nuanced view of the poet in the famed tricorne hat, reminding us that Moore was part of the Greenwich Village crowd and remade herself as a celebrity and performer after the death of her mother. Written with the support of Moore’s estate and a big in-house favorite.

Rybczynski, Witold. How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780374211745. $27. ARCHITECTURE
Winner of the Vincent Scully and J. Anthony Lukas prizes for his arresting commentary on architecture, Rybczynski aims to help lay readers understand the built environment in terms of both art and practicality. You, too, can learn to read architectural draws and see what’s so special about the opera house in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Schultz, William Todd. Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Oct. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781608199730. $27. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Songwriter Elliott Smith’s name still resonates powerfully with those who came of age in the 1990s, both because Smith delivered such an astute sense of personal dislocation and because a mystery still surrounds his 2003 death from a stab wound to the chest, which might have been self-inflicted. Psychology professor Schultz seems to specialize in troubled souls, having already assayed Diane Arbus. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

Shapiro, Dani. Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life. Atlantic Monthly. Oct. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780802121400. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780802193438. MEMOIR/WRITING
The author of two memoirs (most recently, Devotion) and five novels (e.g., Black & White), all well regarded, Shapiro steps back in this memoir cum writing guide to reflect on what she’s done in her life—and how she’s done it.

Teachout, Terry. Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington. Gotham: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9781592407491. $30. CD: Penguin Audio. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, Teachout also knows his jazz; he’s the author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and the one-man play Satchmo at the Waldorf. Now he tackles perhaps the defining jazz composer of the 20th century.

Wolcott, James. Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs. Doubleday. Oct. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9780385527798. $30. LITERARY CRITICISM
From his early work at the Village Voice on TV, film, and rock ’n’ roll, to his seminal literary criticism of the 1980s and 1990s, to his current work as a culture critic and blogger for Vanity Fair, Wolcott is the critic’s critic, defining the genre while setting a new, higher standard. Here’s the best of the best.




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.