Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, June 21, 2013

Week ending June 21, 2013

Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America. Paul Holberton. 2013. 200p. ed. by Oliver Tostmann. bibliog. illus. index. ISBN 9781907372445. pap. $50. FINE ARTS
Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860–1920) was one of the foremost artists of the Bell Epoque, moving between impressionism and postimpressionism, yet he is little known among postimpressionist artists. His contemporaries were Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri Rousseau, but he is most often compared to John Singer Sargent because of the number of society portraits he completed. As Tostmann (curator, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) makes clear here, Zorn’s artistic output, in fact, had quite a range, and he should not be relegated to being simply a society painter. One of Zorn’s most prominent supporters was American society matron Isabella Stewart Gardner, whom he first met at the Chicago World’s Fair, where his work was exhibited along with that of 71 fellow Swedish artists. Gardner introduced him to Boston society and began arranging for his work to be displayed prominently around the Boston area. It is only fitting that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston hosted a major exhibition of Zorn’s work in early 2013. This book, a companion to the exhibition, reevaluates the artistic achievements of Zorn and his place in the annals of postimpressionism.
Verdict A beautifully illustrated work that explains and highlights the career of an underrecognized artist. Recommended for most arts collections.—Sandra Knowles, South Carolina State Lib., Columbia

Chaudhuri, Amit. Calcutta: Two Years in the City. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 320p. photogs. maps. ISBN 9780307270245. $25.95. TRAV
Novelist, essayist, and musician Chaudhuri (The Immortals) writes, “Anyone who has an idea of what Calcutta once was will find that vanished Calcutta the single most insurmountable obstacle to understanding…the city today.” This work is a social history and personal account of the author’s two years in the city, from 2009 to 2011, at a time when it was on the cusp of change and the defeat of a 30-year Marxist government by the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. The book offers meandering, idiosyncratic musings on various topics: the “Ingabanga” (Westernized Bengalis), Christmas in Calcutta, the Bhadralok and the Bengal Renaissance, Italian restaurants, city malls, and domestic servants. Unlike Geoffrey Moorhouse’s Calcutta, which deals more with the city’s history, this work is an account of what it means to live there today.
Verdict Despite some long sentences that will leave the reader breathless, this rich, allusive narrative is an extremely interesting read for both those who are familiar and those unacquainted with the city. Highly recommended.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville, IL

Eickhoff, Diane & Aaron Barnhart. The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region. Quindaro. 2013. 256p. illus. index. ISBN 9780976443414. pap. $17.95. TRAV
The Kansas-Missouri border region packs a whole lot of historical significance into a relatively compact area, making it an ideal destination for travelers with lots to see and limited time to see it. Eickhoff (Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols) and Barnhart (Tasteland) take care to present several options for touring the region, including eight driving tours and an index of sites by city. The meat of the guide, an in-depth examination of over 130 places of cultural or historical interest, is divided into chronological sections such as “First People,” “The Battle for Missouri,” and “After the War.” These sites run the gamut from large federally maintained monuments to one-room county museums, but the lively, detailed descriptions make clear the appeal and significance of each one. Information about accessibility for disabled visitors and family-friendliness of attractions is thoughtfully listed, in addition to standards such as hours of operation and admission fees.
Verdict A well-organized, thorough, and surprisingly versatile guidebook, given its limited geographic scope. Recommended for Civil War buffs, regional collections, and road trippers looking for their next itinerary.—Neil Derksen, Pierce Cty. Lib. Syst., Tacoma

Elder, Robert K. The Best Film You’ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love.Chicago Review. Jun. 2013. 288p. index. ISBN 9781569768389. pap. $16.95;ebk. ISBN 9781613749296. FILM
Eight years in the making, this book offers a lively exercise in revisionist film history made possible by the savvy vision of some of today’s most intriguing filmmakers. Elder (editor, Lake County News-Sun; The Film That Changed My Life) interviews 35 directors (only one of whom is a woman) about their favorite underrepresented movie and then discusses their selection. The results are often revelatory and always engaging, especially for readers in search of a few good flicks. Unlike the little-known gems they champion, many of the directors are quite famous, for example, John Waters, Arthur Hiller, Kevin Smith, and Frank Oz. It’s clear that these filmmakers relish candid discussions of their medium, although their enthusiasm often results in colorful language some readers will find objectionable. Ultimately, Elder is successful in pulling thoughtful, stimulating commentary from an impressive group, which makes for an illuminating look at eight decades of cinema across a variety of genres including musicals, comedies, thrillers, and theatrical adaptations.
Verdict A well-written, lively read for pop culture fans and cinephiles alike. Film buffs especially will enjoy this foray into the fascinating world of cinematic shadows.—Dan McClure, Pacific Northwest Coll. of Art Lib., Portland, OR

Hoekstra, Dave. The Supper Club Book: A Celebration of a Midwest Tradition. Chicago Review. Jun. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781613743683. $29.95. TRAV
This delightful book offers an excellent slice of American life as it once was and still exists in remaining supper clubs. Garrison Keillor offers a charming Lake Wobegon–like foreword that gets readers off to the perfect start in this combination oral history–guidebook. Colorful chapter titles include “Supper Clubs with Shtick,” “Wacky-Named Supper Clubs,” and a postscript, “Tribute to Supper Clubs Gone By.” Each of the 24 club entries includes name, address, phone number, and even some web addresses. The images are a highlight: there’s at least one exterior and interior shot, as well as photos of the owner(s), customers (some go back many years), and club staff. A favorite photo is of the Friday night kitchen staff at the Ced-Rel that includes a striking wall clock and vats of ingredients. Linen napkins and relish trays are still essential components of these clubs, examples of what used to be.
Verdict Well-written details about the clubs, their history, owners, customers, and many other points of interest round out this visually rich book. American history buffs, tourists, and foodies of all sorts should thoroughly enjoy.—Susan G. Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL

starred review starKennedy, Randall. For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law. Pantheon. Sept. 2013. 304p. notes. ISBN 9780307907370. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907387. LAW
Kennedy (law, Harvard Law Sch.; The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency) observes here that affirmative action “is a slippery term even when one is trying to be clear and straightforward.” He then proceeds, in clear and straightforward language, to look at affirmative action’s definitions, survey its history, analyze the arguments for and against, and frame a reasoned and cogent case for its existence. Especially edifying is the chapter on the Supreme Court’s treatment of the issue in the higher education arena. The author carefully scrutinizes three pivotal cases, including one currently pending, and reveals a history of confusion and evasion in affirmative action jurisprudence.
Verdict This fair and factual book is a thorough and evenhanded review of a divisive policy, with all of its implications and complications. Well documented and accessible, it is an important read for those interested in questions of racial disparity and its remedies. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Joan Pedzich, formerly with Harris Beach PLLC, Pittsford, NY

Lineberry, Cate. The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines. Little, Brown. 2013. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9780316220224. $27; ebk. IBSN 9780316220231. HIST
Lineberry (former Europe editor, National Geographic) details the 1943 journey—and rescue—of the 807th Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron (MAETS). Leaving from Italy, this group of almost 30 American nurses and medics, on their way to the front lines to evacuate wounded troops, became lost in a storm, their plane crashing in Nazi-occupied Albania. For the next 62 days, the group survived with the help of the Albanian people, evading the Nazis, navigating an Albanian civil war, and walking hundreds of miles through mountainous terrain and inclement weather. Drawing on recent interviews with the sole surviving member of the group, previously classified information, archives, and published and unpublished memoirs, Lineberry deftly describes the Americans’ struggles yet doesn’t stoop to unnecessary drama or emotion. She shows the group’s bravery but also their frustrations, despair, and debilitating lack of understanding of Albanian culture.
Verdict Readers who were fascinated by Elizabeth M. Norman’s We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese will also be attracted to this book. Judith Barger’s recent title Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II includes a short chapter on this episode.—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL

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"