Arts & Humanities Reviews | March 1, 2014

starred review starBailey, Blake. The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait. Norton. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780393239577. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393242881. LITsplendidthingsweplanned031814

The Bailey family—Burck, a New York University–trained lawyer who’s named “Citizen of the Year” in Vinita, OK; his wife, Marlies, a young German immigrant drawn to the bright lights and energy of New York in the early 1960s; and two sons, Scott and Blake—live the American dream, observes former Guggenheim Fellow, ­National Book Critics Circle Award winner, and Pulitzer Prize finalist Bailey (Mina Hohenberg Darden Professor, creative writing; Old Dominion Univ.; A Tragic Honesty; Cheever). Or so it seems. But Scott—handsome, impetuous, and selfish—allows his demons to take over. Physically and psychologically diminished, the ex-marine returns home for one last attempt at salvaging the remains of his chaotic and sometimes felonious life. The younger Bailey recalls those dark days, shortly before his brother’s last stint in prison and his suicide in 2003 at age 43. Bailey’s memoir is a more genteel, though no less accomplished, update of Harry Crews’s A Childhood, with details layered in an unflinching fusillade until a poignant, maddening portrait of Scott—and the rest of the Baileys, seen through the lens of Scott’s descent—takes shape. The effect of the writing and Bailey’s own wrestling with time, memory, and loss lingers after the final passages. VERDICT For readers of memoir and literary nonfiction, this should make end-of-the-year lists.—­Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA

starred review starLeo, Teresa. Bloom in Reverse. Univ. of Pittsburgh. (Pitt Poetry). 2014. 104p. ISBN 9780822962977. pap. $15.95. POETRY
bloominreverse031814In language both fierce and lovely (She…knew the names of beautiful things/ to describe the trauma of such a room”), Leo transforms the suicide of a friend and the end of a relationship into something elegiac and moving. Using a sort of reverse chronology, Leo (The Halo Rule) writes poems that begin in loss and death and finish in revival and renewal: “If there are tears in things,/ then tonight everything begins and ends// in water.” Perhaps the poet needed to reconstruct what was lost in order to make sense of it. And perhaps she needed to control the language and structure as a way of controlling emotion, for while sometimes lines and breaks seem scattered and fragmented, most of the poems are fashioned in couplets or tercets. And perhaps Leo needed to bring light into the lines, to allow the poet and poem a place to breathe once more: “If I could only call up her image/ when I wanted I would.// But she comes and goes/ as she pleases, and won’t stop// until she is everything/ that ever came and left at once—.” VERDICT This is a deeply meaningful book that has something for all readers. [See “What’s Coming for National Poetry Month in April?” Prepub Alert, 11/18/13.]—Karla Huston, Appleton, WI

starred review starLogan, William. Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry. Columbia Univ. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780231166867. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780231537230. LIT
Want to know the state of contemporary poetry? Open this guiltyknowledgeguiltypleasure031814wonderful collection of criticism at any point and just start reading. Logan (Alumni/ae Professor of English & Distinguished Teaching Scholar, Univ. of Florida), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Undiscovered Country, is thoughtful, insightful, and often hilariously funny in his consideration of this most daunting corner of literature’s field. A master at deciphering the almost indecipherable syntactic ambiguities indulged in by contemporary ­poets, the author is also an expert at pricking pompous and overinflated pretensions. And though some might see his piercing insights as occasionally harsh or even ­bitter, they never feel cruel or personal but merely true. One wonders if Logan is the last person on earth who takes poetry seriously. But he does, and it’s bracing as well as inspiring to spend time in his company, as he challenges poets to earn attention. Included are several delightful omnibus articles, “Verse Chronicles” (originally ­appearing in The New Criterion), that collect six reviews each in a helpful snapshot of contemporary poetry. But the highlight might be the three writings on Elizabeth Bishop, including “Elizabeth Bishop at Summer Camp,” which puts in print for the first time some of her very early “adolescent verse” as well as “intimate letters.” VERDICT Logan’s criticism is filled with both insight and delight, revealing him as our 21st-century Samuel Johnson.—­Herman ­Sutter, St. ­Agnes Acad., Houston

starred review starMertins, Detlef. Mies. Phaidon. Jun. 2014. 544p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780714839622. $150. ARCH

mies031814With 849 title entries on “Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig—1886–1969” in WorldCat, the union catalog of 72,000 libraries, do we need another book on the master of universal space, heir to the Platonic ideal, and pursuer of the perfectly understated environment? For those interested in the intellectual context of the work—in Mies as philosopher-architect—the answer is “yes.” Tracing a chronological arc, Mies, with its suitably terse title, is divided into five chapters highlighting his development as seen in the Riehl country house, the visionary glass skyscrapers of the 1920s, the Barcelona Pavilion, the campus for the Illinois Institute of Technology, and such high-rise buildings as 860-880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Both storyteller and documentarian, the late Mertins (Univ. of Pennsylvania; Modernity Unbound) can in one paragraph adroitly describe a building with exceptional accuracy—he visited each of the architect’s extant projects—and in the next relate it to Vitruvian and Gothic Revival traditions, Walter Benjamin’s concept of mimesis, or plant growth. Unfortunately, the book’s two-column design results in handsome white space but overly small illustrations (all black and white), and dense, undersize ­typography. VERDICT Written at a level that serves graduate students and faculty, this title is essential only for comprehensive architecture collections.—Paul Glassman, Felician Coll. Lib., Lodi, NJ

starred review star

Santorelli, Dina. Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid. St. Martin’s. 2014. 160p. illus. ISBN 9781250049971. $24.99. MUSIC

daftpunk031814If you’ve ever nodded your head while watching Disney’s Tron: The Legacy, or while playing DJ Hero (an offshoot of the now defunct Activision video game “Guitar Hero” series), then you have experienced the technological genre-bending ubiquity of this title. Santorelli’s biography of the French EDM (electronic dance music) pioneers, whose “Random Access Memories” won a Grammy for album of the year, successfully unveils the duo known for hiding their identities behind robotic helmets. Not only are readers given basic biographical information about the men behind the global phenomenon (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) but, most important, they are provided with an exploratory view of the inspiration, thought process, and production of their groundbreaking artistic endeavors that transcend music. This title is both a critical analysis of the band as experimental artist-icons and an homage to the multitude of creators and collaborators who have inspired (and are inspired by) the duo. VERDICT Recommended for Daft Punk fans, those who enjoy EDM, and/or those interested in understanding the path from creative to cultural icon.—­­Tamela Chambers, Chicago Pub. Schs.

starred review starWright, Charles. Caribou. Farrar. Mar. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9780374119027. $23. POETRY

caribou031814Like those in Wright’s 2009’s Sestets, the lyrical meditations in this latest collection consider the impermanence of human existence within the relative permanence of the natural world. On the threshold of 80 (“This is an old man’s poetry”), the poet faces mortality with a candid, if often deflating, awareness that eventually we find ourselves “surrounded by everything we have failed to do,” our memories “merely the things we forgot to forget.” A generic setting of creeks, clouds, trees, moons, and stars, Wright’s strangely depopulated world takes on a haunting yet familiar presence, inspiring both Zen wisdom (“empty yourself of yourself”) and dark wit (“…you’ve said your piece. Now rest in it.”). VERDICT Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, among other honors, Wright offers up a spare, no-nonsense approach that serves his subjects well, enabling a kind of spiritual poetry for those who resist spirituality. Pointed as ever, his work continues to engage and explore life’s unsolvable mysteries. [See “Ten Essential Poetry Titles for Winter 2014,” Prepub Alert, 9/30/13.]—Fred ­Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

Fine Arts

Heartney, Eleanor & others. The Reckoning: Women Artists of the New Millennium. Prestel. 2013. 256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9783791347592. pap. $39.95. FINE ARTS

Stilgoe, John R. Old Fields: Photography, Glamour, and Fantasy Landscape. Univ. of Virginia. 2014. 544p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780813935157. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9780813935164. PHOTOG

Time. MIT. (Documents of Contemporary Art). 2013. 237p. ed. by Amelia Groom. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780262519663. pap. $24.95. FINE ARTS

Vout, Caroline. Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome. Univ. of California. 2013. 272p. illus. index. ISBN 9780520280205. $34.95. FINE ARTS

Young, Cynthia. We Went Back: Photographs from Europe 1933–1956 by Chim. Prestel. 2013. 304p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9783791352817. $65. PHOTOG


Gurwitch, Annabelle. I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50. Blue Rider. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780399166181. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101634721. HUMOR

Short: An International Anthology of Five Centuries of Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms. Persea. Mar. 2014. 352p. ed. by Alan Ziegler. notes. index. ISBN 9780892554324. pap. $16.95. LIT

Sinclair, Iain. American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light. Faber & Faber. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780865478671. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374711672. LIT

Performing Arts

Bahn, Paul G. The Archaeology of Hollywood: Traces of the Golden Age. Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2014. 256p. photos. index. ISBN 9780759123786. $37; ebk. ISBN 9780759123793. FILM

Gallagher, Dorothy. Lillian Hellman: An Imperious Life. Yale Univ. (Jewish Lives). 2013. 184p. notes. index. ISBN 9780300164978. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780300166392. THEATER

Gaynor, Gloria & Sue Carswell. We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, and the Power of Song. Grand Harbor. 2013. 222p. ISBN 9781477848036. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781477898031. MUSIC

Mayes, Jimmi & V.C. Speek. The Amazing Jimmi Mayes: Sideman to the Stars. Univ. of Mississippi. (American Made Music). 2014. 224p. photos. discog. index. ISBN 9781617039164. $30. MUSIC

Olsen, Andrea & Caryn McHose. The Place To Dance: A Somatic Guide to Dancing and Dance Making. Wesleyan Univ. 2014. 278p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780819574053. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780819574060. DANCE


Coultas, Brenda. The Tatters. Wesleyan Univ. Mar. 2014. 66p. ISBN 9780819574190. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780819574404. POETRY

I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan. Farrar. Apr. 2014. 160p. tr. from Pashto by Eliza Griswold. ­photos. ISBN 9780374191870. $24. POETRY

Zucker, Rachel. The Pedestrians. Wave. Apr. 2014. 160p. ISBN 9781933517896. pap. $18. POETRY

Spirituality & Religion

Patterson, William Patrick. Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, the Teaching, His Mission. Arete Communications. 2014. 668p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781879514089. $45. REL

Playing with Religion in Digital Games. Indiana Univ. (Digital Game Studies). May 2014. 302p. ed. by Heidi A. Campbell & Gregory P. Grieve. notes. index. ISBN 9780253012449. $85; pap. ISBN 9780253012531. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780253012630. REL

Zevit, Ziony. What Really Happened in the Garden of Eden. Yale Univ. 2013. 400p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300178692. $30. REL


War Movies

starred review starHarris, Mark. Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. ­Penguin Pr. Mar. 2014. 512p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781594204302. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594204302. FILM

fivecameback041814Harris (Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New ­Hollywood) surpasses previous scholarship on the directors who are the focus here: Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler. These Academy Award–winning directors were at the top of their careers when they volunteered for military duty in World War II. Several joined the Signal Corps and the Field Photo Unit; Wyler documented flying missions of the Memphis Belle. This is also a well-documented analysis of how Hollywood moguls (the majority being Jewish) and film celebrities became divided on the issue of prewar U.S. isolationism vs. interventionism. Accusations were thrown at Hollywood for either being in collusion with the Roosevelt administration or being anti-American and communist sympathizers. These directors were responsible for creating effective ­pro­p­­­aganda and training films for new recruits, as well as documenting the realities of a devastating war. Their work took them everywhere from the Aleutian Islands to the South Pacific. After the war, they brought their experiences back home, each being affected both personally and prof­essionally. While Wyler and Huston found new pride in Hollywood and the country they loved so much, Stevens became painfully withdrawn from the world after having filmed the horrors of Dachau in preparing evidence for the Nuremberg trials. VERDICT This well-researched book is essential for both film enthusiasts and World War II aficionados. [See Prepub Alert, 9/1/13.]
All five directors are featured in individual titles as part of the University of Mississippi’s “Conversations with Filmmakers: Interviews” series. Other books to consider: Thomas Doherty’s Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II ([Film & Culture] Columbia Univ. 1993); Clayton Koppes & Gregory D. Black’s Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (Free Pr. 1987); Frank Capra’s The Name Above the ­Title: An Autobiography (Macmillan. 1971; Da Capo. 1997); Joseph McBride’s Searching for John Ford (Univ. of Mississippi. 2011); John Huston’s An Open Book (Da Capo, 1994); Marilyn Ann Moss’s Giant: George Stevens, a Life on Film (Univ. of Wisconsin. 2004); Gabriel Miller’s William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director ([Screen Classics] Univ. of Kentucky. 2013); Jan Herman’s A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director: William Wyler (Putnam. 1996).—Richard Dickey, Washington DC

In Black and White

Hoffman, Warren. The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical. Rutgers Univ. 2014. 256p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780813563350. $85; pap. ISBN 9780813563343. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780813563367. THEATER

Theater producer/critic/playwright Hoffman (The Passing Game) insists that audiences have been “duped” into believing that the Broadway musical “is the most innocent of art forms when, in fact, it is one of America’s most powerful, influential, and even at times polemical arts precisely because it often seems to be about nothing at all.” Filtering many of Broadway’s beloved spectacles through a race-sensitive lens, the author eschews complicit complacency: sing, dance, and clap along, he says, but open your eyes and see that Show Boat, for instance, “validate[s] and rationalize[s] the ‘inferiority’ of blacks and the ‘superiority’ of whites”; Oklahoma! erases the Native American experience in their own Indian Territory; and Annie Get Your Gun puts Native Americans center stage only in “stereotypical if not downright racist” characterizations. The multicultural A Chorus Line, the author says, ironically ends with the bittersweet elision of individuality into “One,” and 42nd Street is little more than revisionist “pure white fantasy.” While Hoffman’s ideas are important, his execution is rife with repetition, inflammatory rhetoric, and surprising lapses (e.g., Miss Saigon’s yellowface casting controversy). VERDICT While all culture aficionados should read this book—indeed, a condensed version of it should be inserted into every musical’s playbill—few may reach the final page.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

Hughey, Matthew W. The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and Consumption. Temple Univ. Apr. 2014. 222p. index. ISBN 9781439910016. $29.95. FILM

whitesaviorfilm031814Since the 1980s, Hollywood has released a spate of so-called “white savior” films, in which heroic white protagonists liberate persons of color from dangerous and decayed environments. In this title, Hughey (White Bound: Nationalists, Antiracists, and the Shared Meaning of Race) provides a systematic study of the messages these films convey, as well as how film reviewers and audiences receive them. Hughey employs a qualitative and quantitative approach to contend that white savior films reflect and reinforce normative ideas about white paternalism and the need to rescue nonwhites from social dysfunction. Moreover, while responses from critics and viewers can vary widely, they nonetheless often identify with the so-called ­“commonsense” ideas about race that are present in pictures such as The Blind Side and Gran Torino. The author’s analysis is sound, and he ultimately offers a convincing critique of how these movies seek to maintain the racial status quo. VERDICT Scholars of film, sociology, and cultural studies will find this book particularly illuminating.—Chris Martin, North Dakota State Univ. Libs.

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