Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, August 16, 2013

Week ending August 16, 2013

Gillotti, Susan. Women of Privilege: 100 Years of Love and Loss in a Family of the Hudson River Valley. Academy Chicago. 2013. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780897336802. $35; pap. ISBN 9780897337243. $24.50. BIOG
In her first solo effort, Jungian psychotherapist Gillotti (coauthor, How To Go to Work When Your Husband Is Against It, Your Children Aren’t Old Enough and There’s Nothing You Can Do Anyhow) seeks to summon the voices of the women of four generations of her family, going back to 1876, to tell a tale that delves into long-held secrets, societal aspirations, and feminine challenges. Although there are hints of the wonderful social history that can be created from extant diaries, letters, and photographs passed down in a family, Gillotti interweaves invented dialog into her narrative in an attempt further to evoke time and place. Some readers may be reminded of the documentary film, Grey Gardens, about the struggles of two Bouvier women, mother and daughter, with mental illness and social ruin. Gillotti probes especially into the lives of her mother, Helen Crosby, and her grandmother, Elizabeth Coolidge, so readers may experience their frustrations and successes as they come and go from their estate, Grasmere, in New York’s Hudson River valley.
Verdict The lack of an index and the presence of fictional dialog will make this book of little interest to serious historians, but readers with a regional interest or those attracted to multigenerational family stories that explore sexuality and insanity among the privileged may seek it out. Fans of epistolary fiction will also appreciate the distinct personalities revealed.—Barbara Ferrara, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA

Goodwin, George. Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513; Henry VIII and James IV and the Decisive Battle for Renaissance Britain. Norton. 2013. 320p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393073683. $29.95. HIST
Independent UK historian Goodwin (Fatal Colours: Towton 1461—England’s Most Brutal Battle) details the September 9, 1513, Battle of Flodden between Scotland’s James IV and England’s Henry VIII in time for its quincentennial. To honor an alliance with France, James IV declared war on his wife’s brother, Henry VIII, to distract Henry from England’s war with France. Considered the largest battle fought between Scotland and England, Flodden saw the death of James IV and that of more than 10,000 Scottish and British soldiers. Goodwin begins the book by connecting (unconvincingly) the battle to the subsequent unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth to the English throne, as James I, upon her death. Unfortunately, Goodwin’s book reads more like a mashup of encyclopedic facts instead of the enthralling military tale it should be. For example, in the first chapter alone, Goodwin mentions five kings without relating anything about their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses as rulers or any mention of their contemporaries’ perceptions of them.
Verdict Peter Reese’s Flodden: A Scottish Tragedy is a far more enlightening and enjoyable read. However, some fans of Goodwin’s previous book, above, may be interested in reading this one.—Tonya Briggs, Cuyahoga Community Coll.–Metropolitan Campus Lib., Cleveland

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. More Scenes from the Rural Life. Princeton Architectural. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781616891565. $24.95. AGRI
New York Times columnist Klinkenborg’s latest book certainly plays into the current popular focus on slow food, agriculture, agrarian nostalgia, and (to a certain extent) conspicuous nonconsumption. In this sequel to The Rural Life, which drew from his Times columns on similar subjects, Klinkenborg details his experiences over ten years on his upstate New York farm as he milks cows and ponders foxes, tomato vines, changing seasons, the city vs. the country, and the cycles of life from birth to death and seed to rot. Midway through, Klinkenborg includes an informative and enlightening analysis of the cattle industry and how much of the United States’ agriculture is dependent on beef and vice versa.
Verdict The tone of this book has far more gravitas than Kristin Kimball’s memoir The Dirty Life, and even Michael Pollan fans might find it a bit verbose. Still, it’s a solid addition to the farm lit genre. Slow food here makes for a slow but pleasant read.—Stacie Williams, Lexington P.L., KY

starred review starNouwen, Henri & others. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. HarperOne. 2013. 223p. notes. ISBN 9780061686153. $25.99. REL
Dutch-born Catholic priest Nouwen (Wounded Healer) died in 1996, but his impact and popularity have scarcely diminished; he is arguably the most popular Catholic writer since Thomas Merton. This is the last of three volumes (the others being Spiritual Direction and Spiritual Formation) carefully constructed from unpublished writings, including his coursework and journals, left at his death. Michael Christensen, who was a student of Nouwen’s, and Rebecca Laird have created a fine book that delves into the answers to questions of what a Christian should do with his/her life. To Nouwen, discernment went far beyond Christian decision-making and had to do with a sense of profound listening to others and to oneself for God-directed cues.
Verdict Nouwen’s gifts as a writer for the spirit rarely failed, and this posthumous volume is as valuable as his other writings; it should have a wide audience among Christians and other seekers.—Graham Christian, Pelham, MA

Younge, Gary. The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream. Haymarket. 2013. 180p. ISBN 9781608463220. $19.95. HIST
Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech rivals only Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as the most famous speech in American history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the speech, given on August 28, 1963, Younge (columnist, Guardian; No Place Like Home: A Black Briton’s Journey Through the Deep South) has written a book about it and the March on Washington at which King spoke. The first third of the book gives a very brief overview of the civil rights movement, followed by a lengthy section on the difficulties of organizing the march. Fewer than 40 pages of this slim volume are actually spent discussing King’s speech. Younge breaks down its rhetorical brilliance and considers what parts of the speech were prepared, left out, or spoken extemporaneously. This part of the book is by far the most compelling, although Younge quotes heavily from other sources, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly the author has contributed to the analysis. The book’s final chapter assesses current race relations in America.
Verdict This is best as an introductory volume for lay readers and students new to the subjects of civil rights and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—Jason Martin, Stetson Univ. Lib., DeLand, FL

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"