Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, December 6, 2013

Week ending December 6, 2013

Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion. Yale Univ. 2013. 191p. ed. by Laurie Anne Brewer & Kate Irvin. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9780300190816. $50. DEC ARTS
This title was published to accompany the 2013 exhibition by costume and textiles curators Irvin and Brewer at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Four historical essays about dandyism are interspersed among 15 brief musings on men who embody different aspects of the dandy, including Beau Brummell, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cecil Beaton, Malcolm McLaren, and John Waters. The book repositions the often-ridiculed dandy (a term dating back to the late 18th century) as an artist/provocateur for whom dress is one part of a unified vision of life and art—as observed in the self-fashioning figures of Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, and Andy Warhol. The intellectual and aesthetic approach of this book fits between the cultural analyses of Colin McDowell’s The Man of Fashion: Peacock Males and Perfect Gentlemen and the sartorialism of James Sherwood’s Bespoke: The Men’s Style of Savile Row. New photography showing details of fabrics, collars, and cuffs from clothes in the exhibition will appeal to fashion connoisseurs. A selected bibliography on menswear and dandyism rounds out the book.
The dandy is newly relevant in our image- and identity-focused culture, and this book adds a multifaceted, contemporary view of his role in men’s fashion.—Lindsay King, Yale Univ. Libs., New Haven, CT

starred review starAuerbach, Erich. Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach. Princeton Univ. Dec. 2013. 328p. ed. by James I. Porter. tr. from German by Jane O. Newman. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691137117. $39.50. LIT
Auerbach (1892–1957), German critic, literary historian, and romance philologist, promoted the idea of the national spirit in literature and ruffled some feathers by stating that all scholars in the arts and humanities are only writing history in their respective fields. Editor Porter (classics, comparative literature, Univ. of California-Irvine) purposefully organizes Auerbach’s writings beginning with pieces on theorists such as Giambattista Vico (The New Science) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (Ideas for the History of Humanity) and artists such as Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust) in order to sketch a historical panorama of erudite language to predictions for future literary invention. He skillfully accomplishes these goals by drawing out examples of Auerbach’s writing focused on humans and their language as earthly (irdisch) artifacts, each created with a historical perspective, not just as poetic language steeped in spiritual motifs alone. Porter hopes to create a bridge between Auerbach’s writing on varied books such as the Bible in concrete occurrences in order to highlight unseen vertical factors in human’s lives such as faith and passion along with the social and political situated on a historical time line.
This book is best suited for literary theorists writing from disparate paradigms and for most scholars from the humanities engaged in granularly close readings pursuing the understanding of writing as one of many human creations.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Metamedia Management, LLC

Burgundy, Ron. Let Me Off at the Top! My Classy Life and Other Musings. Crown Archetype. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780804139571. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780385349321. HUMOR
The movie Anchorman, about a television anchorman who is as vain as he is dense, was a hit when it came out in 2004, largely owing to the inspired clowning of its stars Will Ferrell and Steve Carell. Now Anchorman 2 is hitting the movie houses and with it comes this made-up autobiography of the hottest anchorman in San Diego, “Ron Burgundy,” as he will be the first to tell you. (Burgundy boasts that he knew early on that he “had the avocados for anchorman work.”) The book captures the quality of Burgundy’s thoughts (if indeed he is capable of thought) in hours of recorded conversations with himself. Unfortunately, the broad humor that made the movie work translates less well into print. What we have here is essentially a one-joke book, filled with tasteless, potty humor about real-life celebrities, and inane non sequiturs, including one on how to survive a prison riot and another about hunting jackalopes with Peter Lawford and Bobby Kennedy. The book will make the reader laugh for a few minutes, but the humor is thin, and it wears out quickly.
Verdict Lovers of Anchorman may flock to this work, but they’ll forget what they read as soon as they’ve finished.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA

Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich. Chekhov on Theatre. Hal Leonard. 2013. 246p. tr. from Russian by Stephen Mulrine. index. ISBN 9781623160289. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781623160296. THEATER
Russian author and playwright Chekhov (1860–1904) once wrote that writers weren’t “obliged to answer questions about God, pessimism, etc…A writer’s task is simply to imagine who, how, and in what circumstance people talk or think about God or pessimism.” He makes the point that artists are not required to provide answers, only properly posed questions. Mulrine’s commentary and introduction of the playwright’s writings doesn’t quite succeed at posing proper questions, but it also doesn’t quite fail. His translation is engaging and conversational, especially in Chekhov’s letters, most often to his mentor, Alexei Suvorin, Russian actor and theatre director, K.S. Alexeyev-Stanislavsky, and his wife, actress Olga Knipper. Where the collection falls short is in the presentation. The first half consists of his columns about theater and letters of advice to other artists, and it is full of insight by a man who repeatedly claims to know nothing about the stage. The second half devolves into a man cursed with an analytical mind reevaluating every inch of all of his plays, and it gets tiring quickly. The letters surrounding the fiasco of a premiere of The Seagull is especially interesting, but the volume could be shorter.
Verdict This is a great resource for anyone with an interest in the art of writing for the page or the stage; full of insights for all varieties of artists, not just for theater.—Nick Philpott, Cincinnati

Cole, Katherine. Complete Wine Selector: How To Choose the Right Wine Every Time. Firefly. 2013. 256p. photos. index. ISBN 9781770852259. pap. $24.95. BEVERAGES
Buying wine can be a bewildering act for many. Cole (Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers), a veteran wine writer for the Oregonian since 2002, has written a guide to make this common purchase a pleasure for even the novice wine buyer. She starts by providing the basics for each style of wine, discussing each wine’s taste, how it is made, its origins, food pairings, and advice for those looking to buy. Cole’s narrative is easy and accessible; readers will feel as though they’ve got a close friend beside them as they enter the wine aisle. Sprinkled throughout this simple and colorful volume are tidbits, such as how to read a wine label or what different shades of wine mean. Cole also includes information on how to serve and store wine and where to find the best wine shops.
Verdict This book is highly recommended for any wine lover, from the novice to the seasoned connoisseur.—Ginny Wolter, Toledo-Lucas Cty. P.L.

Freud, Sigmund & Anna Freud. Correspondence: 1904–1938. Polity. Dec. 2013. 400p. ed. by Ingeborg Meyer-Palmedo. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780745641492. $35. PSYCH
First published in 2006 in German, the 298 letters between Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and daughter Anna (1895–1982) provide a perspective on family relationships and the psychoanalytic movement which, after Sigmund’s death, was led by Anna, a schoolteacher-turned-analyst. Mostly summer vacation letters, the collection is smaller than those of Freud with colleagues outside of Vienna. Anna shows more emotion—“love and kisses”—than her father (“affectionately yours”). The controversial analysis of Anna by her father is noted without comment. Some important years, 1924–26 and most of the 1930s, have no letters, as Anna nursed her father through his ordeal with oral cancer. The photographs are well chosen. Two substantial appendices present their detailed travel diary to Rome in 1923, prior to Freud’s first cancer surgery.
Verdict Of special interest to psychologists and historians; accessible to general readers and valuable for its extensive historical and biographical notes.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC

Fuchs, Lyn. Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico. Coffeetown. 2013. 140p. ISBN 9781603811729. pap. $11.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603811736. TRAV
Gonzo tourist Fuchs’s account of way-off-the-beaten-path Mexico makes Anthony Bourdain appear reserved. His approach style is primitive and organic, with no first-world intercession or assistance. Only three pages in and he’s solicited a fake passport, trial-and-errored peyote dosage, and had a tooth extracted with wincing crudeness by a “dentist.” While he’s more author Hunter S. Thompson than travel guide Rick Steves, and certainly sensational in his gleefully gritty pursuit of the real Mexico, he’s not exploitive, cloying, or insincere and more often than not he reveals with acuity and bite a talent for finding the conceit (with prickling quotability).
Verdict Though not your standard travel guide—no maps, agenda, index, or even photos are in this book—it is nonetheless vivid, and illuminatingly dense with lost histories of an unconsidered culture. Fuchs rambles (sometimes escaping) from Mayan and Mixtec barrios and villages to cities and towns, and opens up to everything from mafiosos and mystics to moles and iguanas. Fuchs offers unpredictable reading, recommended to those who like travel to challenge their perspective.—Benjamin Malczewski, Toledo–Lucas Cty. P.L.

Gilden, Karen. Camping with the Communists: The Adventures of an American Family in the Soviet Union. Artha Pr. 2013. 224p. photos. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781886922006. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781886922013. TRAV
A memoir about an average family camping trip could have, shall we say, limited appeal. This work, however, is about an American family traveling in the Soviet Union in 1977. Gilden was studying Russian language and history, and longed to see the places she read about. She essentially talked her family into going on a trip through Europe, planning to visit exotic places when information about the USSR in particular was difficult to obtain. She recounts frustrating dealings with Soviet bureaucracy, unglamorous conditions in campgrounds, and nervousness about being arrested for minor infractions, but she also gives a sense of her gratitude for a life-changing adventure and the interesting people she met along the way. The trip was a dream come true, and this work is a testament to how the author and her family made it happen.
Verdict A quick and engaging read that reminds us of the rapid and radical changes in world events in the past 30-plus years. Recommended for Russian history buffs, travel and memoir readers, and anyone who thinks their family camping trips were rough.—Megan H. Fraser, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, Libs.

Hennessy, Christopher. Our Deep Gossip: Conversations with Gay Writers on Poetry and Desire. Univ. of Wisconsin. 2013. 288p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9780299295646. pap. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780299295639. LIT
Hennessy (editor, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide; Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets) interviews eight very different leading poets—Edward Field, John Ashbery, Richard Howard, Aaron Shurin, Dennis Cooper, Cyrus Cassells, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Kazim Ali—to explore the deep associations, commonalities, and divergences among them. The interviews, each a chapter long, cover the men’s histories, what motivates their writing, who has influenced them, how sex and sexual orientation intersect with their writing, their current projects, and many more free-ranging topics. Hennessy approaches these conversations with a deep understanding of each of the poets and their body of work, allowing him to ask poignant questions and extract the maximum information from each writer. The interviews have an easygoing and comfortable style, giving the reader an intimate feeling of being present to share in and listen to their conversations.
Verdict Hennessy successfully presents readers with a snapshot of modern gay poetry while placing the individual poets within the wider American literary landscape. A foreword by Christopher Bram is a bonus; the inclusion of a selected bibliography of the poets’ work, a list of recommended reading, and a list of anthologies and journals are all value-added features. Poets and readers of poetry and LGBT literature will enjoy Our Deep Gossip.—Mark Manivong, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

Prager, Dave. Delirious Delhi: Inside India’s Incredible Capital. Arcade: Skyhorse. 2013. 416p. photos. index. ISBN 9781611458329. pap. $17.95. TRAV
New Yorker Prager spent 18 months working in Delhi from 2007 to 2009, and this book proves that he is a quick study in figuring out the megalopolis. Focusing on the author’s own experiences of living and working in Delhi (rather than on the tourist sights and the history of the city), the narrative crackles with wit and wise observations. Prager has a keen eye that is both ironic and compassionate. He teaches the reader how to negotiate a fare on auto rickshaws and taxis, how to be a savvy shopper, the local food, the business culture, and describes workplace interactions. (His musings on getting around in the city may seem a little outdated now that the Delhi Metro is in full operation.)
Verdict With its fresh insights, this book provides the western expatriate and visitor with an excellent introduction to what it means to live and work in Delhi. It nicely complements the information available in The Lonely Planet and other travel guides. Another book on this subject is Sam Millers Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity.—Ravi Shenoy, Naperville, IL

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way. Vol. 1. Yale Univ. 2013. 512p. ed. by William C. Carter. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300185430. $22. LIT
Eminent Proust (1871–1922) biographer and scholar Carter (Marcel Proust: A Life; Proust in Love) has attempted an unprecedented and laudable intellectual feat with his annotation of Swann’s Way, the first volume in Proust’s seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time. He seeks to clarify every term in the novel that might be unknown to the lay reader, allowing the complex inner world of Proust’s epic to be tauntingly revealed, page by page. His academic courage is commendable, but not all is rosy in Swann’s garden. Some of the notes seem unnecessary, others incomplete, and historical blurbs are often fleshed out with irrelevant information. His commentary on the themes is erratic, making them seem less significant than they actually are. And when pages go by without annotation, one wonders if he really sought to be exhaustively complete.
Verdict Scholars of Proust may scoff at a lack of “defining details,” but this work will prove a useful tool for those dipping their madeleine in for the first time.—Lara Jacobs, Brooklyn

Rathbone, Eliza E. & others. van Gogh Repetitions. Yale Univ. 2013. 200p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780300190823. $50. FINE ARTS
Accompanying an exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and The Cleveland Museum of Art that examined why, how, and for whom Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) created multiple versions or repetitions of his work is this new book by curators Rathbone (The Phillips Collection) and William Robinson (Cleveland Museum of Art), along with Phillips Collection head of conservation Elizabeth Steele and Cleveland Museum senior conservator Marcia Steele. The authors analyze documents and new scientific research involving X-rays of the artworks and high-resolution digital imagery to better understand the sequence of van Gogh’s art. It is argued that in many of the second versions of the artist’s paintings, radiography reveals carefully constructed brushstroke repetition that contradicts the clichéd view of the artist as a madman. This is also confirmed by passages from his letters that show the methodical aspect of his creative process by the way he refined and reworked his paintings. The curators also argue that there were practical reasons for van Gogh to create repetitions of his works including as gifts, for art exchanges with other artists, to retain a version for himself, to demonstrate his progress to others, and so that he also had more works to sell and distribute to dealers.
Verdict For the reader who already has some knowledge about van Gogh, but wants to delve more in depth about the artist, this book is an excellent resource.—Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll. Lib., MA

Rebeck, Theresa. Theresa Rebeck Complete Plays. Vol. 4: 2007–2012. Smith & Kraus. 2013. 497p. ISBN 9781575257969. pap. $24.95. THEATER
Binge-reading this new collection of plays is like being trapped in a room full of people who know that they are the smartest ones in it. The banter is fascinating but, by the end of the evening, the urge to do damage to each of them in a terrifyingly slow way is nearly impossible to overcome. Rebeck writes with ferocity, putting characters together in situations that rival the most sadistic experiments dreamed up by evil behavioral psychologists. Seven plays are gathered here. The casts range in size from three to seven characters, except for O Beautiful, which lists 27 roles with the opportunity for much doubling. Standouts include: Mauritius, featuring dialog that crackles with the spirit of truly demented and desperate people; O Beautiful, which features Jesus as a lead character and is one wild ride, taking on Glenn Beck, bullying, and abortion in a thoroughly satisfying way; and Dead Accounts, in two acts, which is a reminder that everybody’s got problems, but only great playwrights with a finely tuned ear for conversation can make those problems interesting.
Verdict An essential purchase even for institutions that don’t have the other volumes of Rebeck’s complete plays, as it will serve as an excuse for acquiring those other texts. College, amateur, semi-pro, and professional groups will find a lot of great material in this collection.—Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Moorhead

starred review starShapiro, Dani. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. Atlantic Monthly. 2013. 230p. ISBN 9780802121400. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780802193438. LIT
Shapiro (Devotion; Black & White) has created a lovely little book that contains gems about the writing process to capture a reader’s attention. Some sections will be most helpful to a beginning writer, or even one who has not yet begun, while other parts will inform or comfort experienced writers, providing a bond of camaraderie in an all too often solitary pursuit. Shapiro arranges the book into “Beginnings,” “Middles,” and “Ends” and intersperses the illumination of the writing life that she discusses with the story of her own journey and that of her parents. With this show and tell, she writes a memoir while producing a guide to writing. She covers some of the same ground as earlier works on the discipline but includes modern advice and informs it with her own experience.
Verdict This is a fine addition to the pantheon of writing life guides that includes Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. [See Prepub Alert, 4/29/13.]—Linda White, Maplewood, MN

Smith, Andrew F. New York City: A Food Biography. Rowman & Littlefield. (Big City Food Biographies). 2013. 204p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442227125. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442227132. HOME ECON
In this third book in Rowman & Littlefield’s innovative series, Smith (New School Univ.; editor, Oxford Encyclopedia on Food and Drink in America) harnesses his deep knowledge of New York’s food culture. The volume begins with a discussion of the natural resources of the region and moves through chapters on the history of settlement in the area, immigration, foods that are unique to the city, and the development of markets, restaurants, and bars. Smith’s writing is engaging and approachable, and he makes clear how deep an impact a city’s food has on its culture, people, and history. Readers will particularly enjoy Smith’s emphasis on the parts of New York’s food history that have stayed constant for generations and his discussion of how even small events can fundamentally alter a city’s culinary identity.
Verdict This work is essential for those interested in New York, the influence of food on our culture, and shifting ways of thinking about food throughout history.—Laura Krier, Sonoma State Univ., Rohnert Park, CA

Wallis, Brian. Weegee: Murder Is My Business. Prestel. 2013. 264p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9783791353135. $49.95. PHOTOG
Published in conjunction with a 2012 exhibition at New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP), this is a serious look at the photographer Arthur Fellig (1899–1968), known as “Weegee the Famous,” his nom de camera. Weegee achieved fame in New York in the 1930s and 40s for his on-the-scene coverage of gang violence, particularly mob murders. As was the case with all photography at the time, his public medium was through publication, in Weegee’s case the many sensational tabloids printed in New York in the prewar years. With essays by ICP staff and three academic authors, this is the most ambitious book on the self-invented godfather of crime photography. Less about the actual photographs than ICP’s 2006 exhibition (Unknown Weegee) and more about the photographer, the book is particularly illuminating about the Jewish Lower East Side milieu in which the photographer grew up and about the criminal culture he documented. Between the essays are heavily illustrated visual dossiers (with photos by Weegee and others) on urban disorder, the tabloid press, and Weegee and the Photo League. The book is well designed, the writing is accessible, and the subject behind the camera is fascinating as well.
Verdict For all collections.—Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Libs.