Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, September 13, 2013

Week ending September 13, 2013

Bell, Ian. Once Upon a Time: The Lives of Bob Dylan. Pegasus. Oct. 2013. 592p. bibliog. index. ISBN 781605984810. $35. MUSIC
Who is Bob Dylan? This question has nagged at biographers and critics since the 1960s, and it is central to this massive, well-researched biography by British journalist Bell (Dreams of Exile: Robert Louis Stevenson; A Biography), which follows a mostly chronological path from Dylan’s childhood in Hibbing, MN, through his triumphs in New York City and the resurgence of his career. Bell’s strength as a biographer is his ability to sift through the many contradictory stories of Dylan’s early days (often supplied by the artist) and his treatment of the murky practices of folk tradition and artistic ownership. Bell draws heavily on the works of previous Dylan biographers (chiefly Clinton Heylin and Robert Shelton) and Joan Baez’s and Suze Rotolo’s memoirs. Tracing the influences on Dylan’s work—traditional folk songs, Woody Guthrie, and the French poet Jacques Prévert—is a particularly strong point of the book; the author also writes convincingly about the impact—on both popular music and on Dylan—of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” However, Bell’s attempts also to provide a sociopolitical history of the United States become tedious and repetitive, and his cynical tone throughout is sometimes too clever and biting. Despite its length, Bell’s saga ends in 1975 with the release of Blood on the Tracks and the dissolution of Dylan’s marriage. The enigmatic singer, still performing at 72, has plenty more tales to tell.
Verdict Dylan fans will want to read this, despite its flaws. Readers with a less fanatical interest in the artist will be well served by the updated edition of Howard Sounes’s Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan or Sean Wilentz’s Bob Dylan in America.—Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA

Caplan, Sheri J. Petticoats and Pinstripes: Portraits of Women in Wall Street’s History. Praeger. 2013. 258p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440802652. $48. BUS
When Caplan (securities arbitrator, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority [FINRA], former VP, asst. general counsel, Goldman Sachs) couldn’t find a book on the history of women in Wall Street and the financial world, she wrote one herself and presents the information here, chronologically from Colonial times to the present, through women’s stories presented in a clear, readable format. Using humor and detail, the author offers up a glimpse of life when banks had “stocking rooms” and when Hetty Green (1834–1916) was nicknamed the Witch of Wall Street. While emphasizing the difficulties of women in a male-dominated business, the book is neither strident nor discordant. Caplan illustrates how repeatedly women in the financial world have stepped forward during the nation’s time of need only to be marginalized when situations return to normal. The recent death of Muriel Siebert (1928–2013), the first woman to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, reminds us this is not ancient history but rather a contemporary narrative as women continue to search for equity in the world of finance.
Verdict A great read for those interested in business, history, women’s studies, and/or money.—Bonnie Tollefson, Cleveland Bradley Cty. P.L., TN

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary. Univ. of Minnesota. (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book). Oct. 2013. 88p. ed. by Dave Page. illus. notes. ISBN 9780816679775. pap. $12.95. LIT
Published as part of the “Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Book” series, which republishes works relating to Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, is this very brief (under 30 pages) diary that American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) began in St. Paul in 1910, when he was 13 years old, and kept for less than a year. This is the first time the writer’s journal has appeared in its entirety in print (the extant portion, that is, as the first seven pages are missing). Though the diary itself is short, it is bookended with an introduction and afterword by editor Page (English, journalism, Inver Hills Community Coll.; coeditor, The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald) and 12 photographs highlighting the book’s content. Page’s introduction details the provenance of the diary; his afterword contextualizes the Thoughtbook as an early document from which Fitzgerald later drew material.
Verdict For the general reader, the editor’s material would be more enlightening than the diary itself. But scholars and Fitzgerald buffs wanting to trace the author’s style and substance back to his juvenilia will want to consider this slight volume.—Audrey Snowden, Orrington P.L., ME

Jullien, François & Shen Zhong. Yue Minjun: L’Ombre du Fou Rire. Thames & Hudson. 2013. 252p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780500970485. $45. FINE ARTS
This exhibition catalog includes photographs, sketches, paintings, and sculptures of the furiously grinning self-portraits of Chinese artist Yue Minjun in color and black and white. Text in French and English discusses why Yue is considered one of the leaders of cynical realism, an art movement that began in the early 1990s to symbolize the sociopolitical changes that took place in China during this time. Also included are essays by Jullien, a French philosopher and Sinologist, an interview with Yue and his friend Zhong, and poems about laughter by Ouyang Jianghe. The appendix contains Yue’s biography, exhibition information, and a selective bibliography.
Verdict An impressive catalog. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about Yue’s work and how art and politics intersect, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and researchers studying art, Asian studies, political science, history, and sociology.—Tina Chan, SUNY Oswego

starred review starMerritt, Greg. Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. Chicago Review. Sept. 2013. 440p. bibliog. index. notes. ISBN 9781613747926. $29.95. CRIME
Merritt attempts here to accomplish two goals: to present an accurate, unbiased account of the incident—the 1921 death of Hollywood starlet Virginia Rappe, with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle accused of the crime—that caused Hollywood’s first major scandal and inform the reader about Hollywood politics when the industry was discovering itself. The author (Film Production: The Complete Uncensored Guide to Independent Filmmaking; Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film Making) seeks to add his own opinion about what has already been covered in several titles and succeeds in gradually leading the reader through the time line of the trial and Arbuckle’s (1887–1933) rise to infamy. While not being able to remain completely unbiased (he has to offer his opinion on how Arbuckle was treated, often siding with him), Merritt tells the story effectively and gives his description of what actually happened behind the locked door of room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, focusing on the people who accused Arbuckle of misdeeds but seemingly had other, differing motives.
Verdict This great read makes its subject easy to understand, while also providing a peek at Hollywood in its early years. The public is obsessed with Hollywood stories; time to learn about the scandal that started it all.—Ryan Claringbole, Madison, WI.

Shepard, Sam & Johnny Dark. Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark. Univ. of Texas. (Southwestern Writers Collection). Oct. 2013. 373p. ed. by Chad Hammett. photos. ISBN 9780292735828. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780292754225. THEATER
American actor and dramatist Sam Shepard (True West; Fool for Love) and his friend Johnny Dark (People I May Know) have been corresponding for four decades. Editor Hammett (English, Texas State Univ., El Paso) has culled from their letters and transcribed some of their recorded conversations to compile a fascinating story of their lives and shared experiences. The friends were brought together when Shepard married Dark’s wife’s daughter. Even after Shepard left his wife and son to be with actress Jessica Lange, the men maintained their correspondence, revealing to each other details about their daily lives, their innermost feelings, and their thoughts on literature and writing. Since Shepard has said that he is not interested in writing his memoirs, this collection of letters may be the only primary written record of the esteemed playwright’s life. Photographs of Shepard and Dark and snapshots of the handwritten letters, interspersed throughout, add visual interest.
Verdict For fans of Shepard, theater buffs, and English and theater students.—Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

Skaggs, Ricky. Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music. It: HarperCollins. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780061917332. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062092434. MUSIC
In this modest memoir, Grammy Award–winning bluegrass legend, Grand Ole Opry performer, and commercial country singer Skaggs provides a straight retelling of his path to success. Through stories from his first time on the stage with Bill Monroe at age six to his current band, Kentucky Thunder, Skaggs proves that bluegrass and country music are his true calling. The memoir focuses on the personal relationships Skaggs has had with musicians rather than on specifics about his music. He writes about the strong influence his parents had on him as they started a family band in his younger years and always encouraged him in his musical endeavors. The book is as much about who influenced Skaggs as it is about his strong Christian faith. He writes about his faith, his influences, and his love for bluegrass music, without pretense.
Verdict Though some may wish Skaggs had delved more into the details of his music, fans of bluegrass and the Grand Ole Opry will enjoy his account of life as a musician. Also recommended for readers interested in Christian memoirs.—Emily Hamstra, Univ. of Michigan Libs., Ann Arbor

Steinmetz, Andrew. This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla. Biblioasis. Oct. 2013. 256p. photos. ISBN 9781927428337. pap. $16.95. FILM
The 1963 film The Great Escape will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Author Steinmetz (Wardlife) is related to the actor who played the Gestapo agent seen checking the passports of the three escapees and speaking to them briefly, in German, before leaving the train car. On screen for 57 seconds, the handsome, blond, part-Jewish Michael Paryla (who was not listed in the credits) died shortly after the end of filming. This book reconstructs Paryla’s life, using diaries, correspondence, and documentary evidence, and shows the many ways his life intersected with director John Sturges’s great war film. Steinmetz uses entries from his own travel journal to move the narrative forward and chronicle his attempt to understand Paryla’s story. The making of the film and Paryla’s complicated family history result in fascinating reading. Steinmetz’s writing style is at times elliptical and often intense, and he sometimes uses the concept of “scenes” as one would in a film. This is a text that requires attention, not swift perusal. (There is no index; photos seen are black and white.)
Verdict This book will appeal to readers who have seen The Great Escape, are interested in film history and/or acting, or have an interest in World War II and its effects on survivors.—Susan L. Peters, Univ. of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

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"