Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, October 25, 2013

Week ending October 25, 2013

The Best Men’s Stage Monologues and Scenes, 2012. 201p. ISBN 9781575257914.
The Best Women’s Stage Monologues and Scenes, 2012. 205p. ISBN 9781575257907.
ea. vol: Smith & Kraus. 2013. ed. by Lawrence Harbison. pap. $14.95.THEATER
Every year, there are new editions of books of monologs and scenes, or of new plays, and none of them really offer up any surprises. This slim volume of men’s monologs stays true to that party line, with editor Harbison (The Best 10 Minute Plays; The Best Women’s Monologues) picking a few obvious choices: The Mountain and Hurt Village by Katori Hall; The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis; two selections from The Hallway Trilogy by Adam Rapp; and works by José Rivera, Carson Kreitzer, and Jacquelyn Reingold added for flavor, it seems. These old guard plays are presented along with some honest-to-goodness new playwrights, which is refreshing. The stated goal here is to serve “younger performers (teens through 30s),” but there is little here that is appropriate high school fare. Many of the monologs point to an angst and world-weariness best accomplished by twenty- and thirtysomethings who have already seen everything.

This collection of women’s roles features quite a few monologs that are beyond stellar, with a balance of hastily slapped-together pieces that seem intended for women who are only casually sane. Harbison, who previously worked with Samuel French Inc. acquiring new plays for the publisher, seems to be under the impression that any scene where a woman talks for about a page means it is a great monolog, but he may just be working with what the off-Broadway scene gave him this year, which is sad in and of itself. There are still great pieces buried in the collection. Cut by Crystal Skillman offers up a good monolog and scene, as does Merridith Allen’s Sex Curve. Katori Hall’s Hurt Village and The Mountaintop, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, and Carson Kreitzer’s Flesh and the Desert also stand out as diamonds in the rough.
Verdict The Best Men’s Stage Monologues and Scenes, 2012, is appropriate for a college performing arts library or an educational theater but not necessarily any better or worse than any similar volume. Best Women’s is much more slapdash than its companion volume for men, plus there are many other monolog/scene collections that are better than this one. Not recommended unless there are no other resources available.—Nick Philpott, Cincinnati

Brown, Ellen. Gluten-Free Bread: More Than 100 Artisan Loaves for a Healthier Life. Running Pr. Oct. 2013. 248p. photos. index. ISBN 9780762450053. pap. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780762450725. COOKING
Following in the footsteps of Bette Hagman’s The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread: More Than 200 Wheat-Free Recipes, Brown draws on her 30 years of food writing (All Wrapped Up; Gluten-Free Holiday Baking) to champion simple and elegant gluten-free cooking. By using her experience as a baker, the author gives the reader a full course in gluten-free baking, discussing techniques, the best way to use ingredients, and the differences between gluten-free and wheat dough. A variety of recipes are on offer here, from simple banana bread to a rich brioche. Although readers may have to hunt in specialty or health food stores for some of the ingredients (tapioca flour, ground chia seeds), Brown keeps the directions well within the reach of the home baker.
Verdict A welcome guide to baking artistry for gluten-free cooks as well as anyone interested in expanding their baking repertoire.—Ginny Wolter, Toledo-Lucas Cty. P.L.

starred review starConroy, Pat. The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780385530903. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385530859. LIT
Best-selling author Conroy, whose ten previous novels include The Great Santini (1976), The Prince of Tides (1987), and My Reading Life (2010), revisits the complicated relationship he had with his father, Don, in this intimate memoir that continues to explore the Conroy family history. Early fans of his work will recognize the repeated confrontations between father and son; Don was known as the Great Santini for his feats as a pilot in the U.S. Marines. The intention here is to offer readers the final chapter on Conroy’s relationship with his parents and his own late-found peace, which came at a high cost.
Verdict Conroy’s work has influenced many younger writers and remains in top form. The author succeeds admirably with this memoir, which is sympathetic without being sentimental, offering stories with wry humor and heartfelt affection.—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

Irby, Samantha. Meaty: Essays. Curbside Splendor. 2013. 250p. ISBN 9780988480421. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780988825864. LIT
Irby (cohost, The Sunday Night Sex Show; www.bitchesgottaeat.com) offers up this debut collection of essays—selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick—continuing upon her successes in cohosting live literature and essay shows and her blog writing, which includes a comedy advice blog she pens with her partner, Ian Belknap, called irbyandian.com. Readers familiar with Irby’s work will recognize some of the pieces that have appeared, albeit in shorter form, in her online posts. However, most of what is here is new and continues with subjects that the author is famous for obsessing over: food, weight gain and loss, relationships, coping with Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, hygiene, and sex. The author is not afraid to confront any topic, and she does so baldly and with a self-deprecating humor that is at once blunt and coarse, but readers will quickly begin to appreciate her openness. It is Irby’s ability to find humor in awkward circumstances, such as in discussing her boyfriend’s poor choice of toilet paper, that makes her so accessible. This collection is not without gravitas, though, and her essays that confront somber and tender issues reveal her as a writer with universal appeal.
Verdict Readers with an interest in memoirs and short essays, especially those that find humor in everyday life, will enjoy Irby’s writing.—Mark Manivong, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

New Playwrights: The Best Plays, 2012. Smith & Kraus. 2013. 429p. ed. by Lawrence Harbison. ISBN 9781575257945. pap. $24.95. THEATER
Editor Harbison has put together an extremely uneven collection of plays, mostly centered on the Drama Desk Award nominations, for which he sat on the committee in 2012. There is a two-hander, a large-cast drama about plagiarism at the New York Times, and everything in between, but only a few of the plays truly hit the emotional notes they reach for. Stephen Sachs’s Bakersfield Mist plays comedy and tragedy simultaneously, which is as close as this collection gets to perfection, and Kirsten Greenidge’s Milk Like Sugar is a standout response to the grown generations always wondering why the next generation is so lost. Meanwhile, plays like CQ/CX by Gabe McKinley and The Invested by Sharyn Rothstein are so committed to being ripped from the headlines that by the time they’re produced, they will be old news. Chad Beckim’s After manages to straddle the line between culturally relevant and dramatically interesting with aplomb, while Eddie Antar’s The Navigator and Anna Kerrigan’s The Talls seem content with being milquetoast.
Verdict This title may have a place at a college arts library, but there are cheaper collections with much better selections.—Nick Philpott, Cincinnati

Plante, David. Becoming a Londoner: A Diary. Bloomsbury USA. 2013. 544p. index. ISBN 9781620401880. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781620401828. LIT
Covering 20 years of his life, writer and expat Franco-American Plante (his novel The Family was nominated for the National Book Award) writes here his day-to-day thoughts and activities upon his move to London in the mid-1960s, when he was in his early twenties. He enters into a relationship with Nikos, an Athenian exile and poet, one that lasted until Nikos’s death in the 1990s. While in London they are befriended by the poet Stephen Spender and, through him, many writers and artists of the previous generation, including W.H. Auden, John Ashberry, Harold Acton, and Francis Bacon. Plante sees his diary as a way to present an account of this period, to see his own life within the context of the world around him, and has succeeded here in re-creating the fascinating milieu of London in the 1960s, a place that was open to artistic possibilities and varying sexual inclinations and where writers and artists could interact and thrive. The reader is privy to Plante’s record of the mundane details of the famous and sometimes rich.
Verdict An excellent read for those interested in this fecund period among artists and writers across the pond.—Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia

Salkin, Allen. From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Putnam. Oct. 2013. 448p. index. ISBN 9780399159329. $27.95. HOME ECON
Today, the Food Network is a household name, grossing $1 billion in yearly revenue and reaching 100 million homes. In this comprehensive chronicle, journalist Salkin traces the history of the station from its inception in the early 1990s (when its first headquarters was merely a three-room apartment) to its current status as a top-ten cable network. Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Salkin gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the figures who built the network and the development of popular shows such as Iron Chef and Good Eats. He also tracks the rising fame of its stars, including chefs Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Tyler Florence, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, and Guy Fieri, detailing dramas such as the cancellation of Emeril Live and Anthony Bourdain’s vocal criticism of the network and many of its stars.
Verdict Readers may be tempted to skim over the more tedious bits about lesser-known executives to get to the juicy details of well-known celebrities. Nevertheless, this thorough history will appeal to those with an interest in food celebrities and television.—Melissa Stoeger, Deerfield P.L., IL

Serban, George. The Mask of Normalcy: Social Conformity and Its Ambiguities. Transaction. Nov. 2013. 206p. index. ISBN 9781412852692. $39.95. PSYCH
Citing the rise of moral relativism and a belief in multiple truths, Serban (psychiatry, New York Univ. Medical Ctr.; Lying: Man’s Second Nature) notes how standards of normalcy and conformity are debatable and change over time. Theories of personality are reviewed with an emphasis on post-Freudian works that have premises based on the belief of cultural determinism. The author follows up on these musings with a discussion of how stress and coping mechanisms affect social conformity. He provides numerous contemporary and clinical examples of how modern society’s new ethical system has led to profound social misconduct (e.g., Bernie Madoff, Anthony Weiner, O.J. Simpson, John Edwards). Specific types of conformist/nonconformist behavior from hippies to terrorists are analyzed along with the rise of psychopathy and sociopathic behavior in today’s morally ambiguous cultural climate. The result is a rather bleak evaluation of modern society as socially polarized, with freedom diminished by notions of political correctness and biased interpretations of the meaning of social equality. Opportunists become “normal,” and only extreme and persistent personality dysfunction is considered abnormal.
Verdict Densely written, this intriguing philosophical tract may appeal to scholars and students of psychology and social theory as well as socially conservative general readers.—Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

Yeung, Rob. You Can Change Your Life: Easy Steps to Getting What You Want. Trafalgar Square. Nov. 2013. 282p. bibliog. ISBN 9780230763821. pap. $18.95. SELF-HELP
Psychologist and author Yeung (E Is for Exceptional; I Is for Influence) presents a way for readers to change their lives through his research-based “change manifesto,” which includes steps such as increasing willpower, drawing up an implementation intention plan, announcing one’s goals to the world, and celebrating success. He follows his 12-step strategy with a “motivation toolkit” that contains a selection of mental workouts for strengthening resolve. Yeung covers all the bases in a clear-cut manner.
Verdict Ideal for readers looking to lose weight, give up bad habits, or tackle any sort of self-improvement agenda.—Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ

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"