Kayne West, Biespiel’s Poetry, Literary Detectives, Buddhism for Couples | Arts & Humanities Reviews, June 15, 2015

redstarBeaumont, Mark. Kanye West: God & Monster. Overlook. Aug. 2015. 432p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781468311372. pap. $18.95. MUSIC

godandmonster62615Recently receiving an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Kanye West, age 37, fulfilled a promise to his mother, Donda West, to obtain a college degree. As London-based music journalist Beaumont (Out of this World: The Story of Muse, Jay-Z: The King of America) underscores in this intimate biography, West’s decision to drop out of college cast an elongated shadow over his early work—his first three albums were titled College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation. The success of these early albums allowed West to expand slowly the creative boundaries of hip-hop, while also transforming his persona from a mere rapper to an artist. In this book, West’s discography functions as a table of contents; each chapter cites the creative decisions, chance encounters, and influences behind each album. Intertwined with a larger narrative about the evolution of an artist is the equally compelling story of how fame can simultaneously instill confidence, delusion, and insecurity. VERDICT More than a cursory summary of quotes, Beaumont’s in-depth depiction of West is an honest attempt to understand one of music’s most controversial subjects.—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH

redstarBiespiel, David. A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns on Poetry. Antilever. 2015. 245p. ISBN 9781938308109. pap. $16.95. LIT

alonghighwhistle62615In his introduction, poet and critic Biespiel (Charming Gardeners) compares his approach to poetry to John Madden’s color commentary of a football game; like Madden, he hopes to bring light to some of the more obscure elements as well as show readers why and how a poem works. The 76 two- to three-page essays collected here are gathered from ten years of poetry columns written for the Oregonian. Each piece covers one poem and, continuing with the Madden simile, is really just an appreciation of the workings of that poem—how it plays the poetic game. What is so delightful is the sense that Biespiel is just one of us—a regular guy—who happens to pay a little more attention and maybe has a little extra experience with poems, but in the end, he never leaves you feeling intimidated. His theory that “most people crave the pure pleasure of poems” invites readers into the conversation and never elbows us aside to show off with some obscure postdoctoral insight. The selection is inclusive as well, covering a vast array of poets including John Milton, ­William ­Wordsworth, Anne ­Bradstreet, Emily ­Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, ­Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Justice, and ­Denise ­Levertov as well as the less famous and the contemporary. VERDICT A perfect introduction to how to read a poem; Biespiel doesn’t tell us how to read, instead he simply shows us. One of the best books about reading poetry you will ever find; essential for all poetry collections and anyone interested in the art and joy of reading.—Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Acad., Houston

redstarStavans, Ilan. Quixote: The Novel and the World. Norton. Sept. 2015. 224p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393083026. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393248388. LIT

quixote62615Stavans (Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst Coll.; A Most Imperfect Union) writes about Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote of La Mancha, originally published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. The result is a book of insights that could have been expanded into any number of larger studies but is ample as is and eminently readable. Stavans notes that we know little about Cervantes’s looks and comments on the relationship of the Knight with other characters such as Sancho and Dulcinea. Later, the author muses on the absence of a bona fide antagonist in the novel, critiques Cervantes’s baroque writing as rambling and flat at times, evaluates the words and punctuation (noting that Cervantes only uses 22,939 different words compared to Shakespeare’s 29,066), and compares Don Quixote with successors, from Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa (The Metamorphosis) to Mark Twain’s Huck and Jim on the river (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Stavans’s closing chapter on translations ends with a translation of his own: a passage by Cervantes into Spanglish. The impression is of abundant intelligence poured into a vessel whose aim is not tidy scholarship but joyous insight. VERDICT Book lovers will relish this expansive and generous tome. [See Prepub Alert, 3/23/15.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA

Literary Detectives

Ackroyd, Peter. Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life. Doubleday. Oct. 2015. 272p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385537391. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780385537407. LIT

Ackroyd, a prolific writer acclaimed for his histories of London (London) and the Thames (Thames), adds a new author to his oeuvre of great lives concisely chronicled. Here he synthesizes the high points of two dozen longer Wilkie Collins (1824–89) biographies in a conversational style. Collins is mostly known today only to Victorian literature aficionados and students, yet he was among the best-regarded writers of his time and an intimate of such luminaries as Charles Dickens and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. While beloved by his peers for his sensational story lines, as exemplified by The Moonstone and The Woman in White, Collins pushed both literary and societal boundaries. He is credited with penning the first English detective story, the first female detective in English literature, and the first detective novel. And while he never married, he supported two mistresses concurrently. VERDICT Ackroyd’s approachable narrative and the book’s near-pocket size will appeal to Collins fans (and time-pressed students), but no new research is presented, therefore limiting the book’s appeal to large public and academic libraries only.—Megan Hodge, Virginia Commonwealth Univ. Libs., Richmond

Dundas, Zach. The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes. Houghton Harcourt. Jun. 2015. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780544214040. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544220201. LIT

greatdetective62615Journalist Dundas (The Renegade Sportsman) has written an entertaining investigation into the enduring and ever adaptable character and world of Sherlock Holmes. A fan himself, Dundas takes readers on his search across London for evidence of Holmes. At the same time the author provides a tour through the history of crime fiction, the life of Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), and the adventures of Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Along the way, we meet those who were the inspirations behind Holmes and his stories as well as the millions of readers affected by the characters—Dundas provides a glimpse into the annual meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars and the global network of fans. The book concludes with a discussion of the current incarnations of Holmes and ­Watson, particularly that of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the BBC’s Sherlock. Also included is a list of the 20 “essential” stories, source notes, and an index. ­VERDICT This quick-paced survey of all things Sherlock Holmes is best suited for fans who have not done much research on the stories or Conan Doyle. Well-written and fun, Dundas’s enthusiasm for his subject is contagious.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis

Edwards, Martin. The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story. HarperCollins. 2015. 528p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780008105969. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780008105976. LIT

Crime novelist Edwards (the “Lake District” mysteries) here examines the “Detection Club,” a group of famous writers who changed the way detective novels are conceived. The ranks of the club included such seminal authors as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, whose lives were as enigmatic and fascinating as their novels. In writing about the authors themselves, Edwards takes a distinct look at the genre and its various influences and well captures the turbulent culture and its effect on these genuinely riveting figures who helped to shape the crime genre. The book’s playful charm makes it much more enjoyable than a straightforward biography or genre piece. VERDICT As popular as detective fiction is, most readers are unaware of the influence “golden age of murder” writers have had on the books, films, and television shows we love. This solid work will appeal primarily to fans of the genre but will also be of interest to literary historians and enthusiasts of literary biographies.—Matthew Gallagher, Victoria, BC

Ward, Nathan. The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett. Bloomsbury USA. Sept. 2015. 240p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802776402. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781632862778. LIT

lostdetective62615Dashiell Hammett (1894–1961) began writing short fiction in 1922, and in a maniacally fertile period between 1929 and 1934 penned five hard-boiled novels, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man among them, that would become standards in American crime fiction. Inspired by Hammett’s experiences over nearly a decade as a detective, the stories exposed the raw nerve of America’s growing criminal enterprise and whetted the reading public’s appetite for crime novels, introducing such iconic characters as the Continental Op, Sam Spade, and Nick Charles, and devising an unfamiliar crime lexicon that would be imitated (but never surpassed) in following decades. Biographer Ward (Dark Harbor) asserts, “If anything taught Hammett to write pithily and with appreciation for the language of street characters it was…his scores of operative reports for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.” However, Hammett’s life was far from the romantic ideal of a best-selling author. Tubercular and alcoholic, Hammett—alongside his longtime partner, the dramatist Lillian Hellman—struggled to reignite the spark of creativity that characterized his early career. A sixth novel would never come to fruition. VERDICT Ward’s focus on the origins of Hammett’s writing style and his connecting the events of the author’s background to the fiction are the highlights of this brief, accessible biography. Endnotes and a selected bibliography are useful for researchers and those wishing to dig deeper into the historical and cultural contexts underpinning Hammett’s achievements. Highly recommended for readers of literary biography, mystery, and crime fiction.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge State Coll., GA

Buddhist reflection

Goleman, Daniel. A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. Bantam. Jun. 2015. 272p. notes. ISBN 9780553394894. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780553394900. REL

aforceforgood62615Psychologist and science writer Goleman first made the concept of emotional intelligence widely known in Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which described the importance of understanding emotional information and applying this knowledge effectively to guide intentions and actions. The central concerns of his dozen or so books on this topic as it relates to leadership, education, economics, the environment, world events, and conduct of life are synthesized in this latest offering focused on the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion and action as fundamental requirements for human survival. Goleman surveys the wide-ranging impact of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom on youth development, brain research, social movements, and individual initiatives as well as the key learnings of multidisciplinary dialogs that have taken place over the course of decades among scientists, psychologists, and spiritual leaders in the Mind and Life Institute meetings with the Dalai Lama. Background notes give a helpful context to the diverse elements in each chapter. ­VERDICT Goleman inspires readers to train their minds and hearts in the Dalai Lama’s teachings of compassionate action and concern for the world: “Think for the long run, for today’s children…. We don’t have to leave for them the world as we found it.”—Bernadette McGrath, ­Vancouver P.L.

Napthali, Sarah. Buddhism for Couples: A Calm Approach to Relationships. Tarcher. Jun. 2015. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9780399174759. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698195141. REL

Relationship advice for couples is popular, as seen in the plethora of books on the topic. Napthali (Buddhism for Mothers; Buddhism for Parents on the Go) takes an unconventional approach to examining the rewards and difficulties of living as a couple. She reflects honestly on her own shortcomings in marriage, applying insights from a lifetime of meditation practice, personal study of Buddhism, and thoughtful reading of contemporary Buddhist writings in this excellent exploration of intimate relationships. Overcoming negativity, anger, stress, and anxiety while maintaining open communication, forgiveness, and understanding are some of the themes she views through the lens of Buddhist psychology and thinking. A spirit of curiosity and acceptance are ways of counteracting the suffering that is part of intimate relationships. Napthali invites readers to balance personal responsibility with self-compassion and generosity toward our partners (“Could I shift my perspective to a more flexible one that allows for inevitable periods of ill will” while learning to accept that “a relationship has seasons”). The author strikes a careful harmony between contemplation and action, closing every chapter with questions that inspire self-reflection. ­VERDICT A thoughtful invitation for all readers to renew their understanding of intimate relationships with equanimity and self-awareness.—Bernadette ­McGrath, Vancouver P.L

Art Skullduggery

Amore, Anthony M. The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World. Palgrave Macmillan. Jul. 2015. 272p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781137279873. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781466879119. FINE ARTS

Art scams are so common today that many specialists shy away from authenticating artworks, which in the past ensured the works’ authorship or originality, and thereby value. Amore (coauthor, Stealing Rembrandts), director of security at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and internationally recognized expert in the field of art theft and security, relies on interviews and newly released court documents to reveal some of the most notorious cons and their histories: the fakes, frauds, forgeries, Ponzi schemes, double-dealing, telescams, and more. Eleven chapters cover at least one case each in great detail. The author’s clear and mostly factual approach examines the various mind sets and motivations of the criminals, art brokers, collectors, dealers, artists, and other individuals involved. Fascinating and at times spellbinding, this book reads like a series of case studies, setting forth the crimes of many well-known and lesser-known miscreants and entities. VERDICT Of significant interest to art world aficionados, brokers, collectors, dealers, lawyers, professionals, and general readers, this ambitious, well-presented and well-documented survey belongs in public as well as academic and special libraries.—Cheryl Ann Lajos, Free Lib. of Philadelphia

Moses, Nancy. Stolen, Smuggled, Sold: On the Hunt for Cultural Treasures. Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2015. 160p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780759121928. $34; ebk. ISBN 9780759121942. FINE ARTS

stolensmuggled62615Museum/cultural consultant Moses’s new work on a similar subject to that of her previous book (Lost in the Museum) is a riveting look at the backstory of what’s in the display cases at your local museum. The author profiles seven historic objects with checkered pasts—Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer, which inspired the movie Woman in Gold; a Pearl S. Buck manuscript; a Lakota Ghost Dance shirt; a digital copy of an old radio interview; a naked mummy; and North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights—and how they were recovered by original owners or cultural stewards. The author’s discussion of the complexity of the cases and ethics involved is thorough and her point clear: what was once viewed as rightful ownership by collectors and institutions is now, through a culturally sensitive lens, viewed as theft. VERDICT Recommended for art and history lovers, museumgoers, and those interested in collecting historical objects and art.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI

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

Fine Arts

European Portrait Photography Since 1990. Prestel. 2015. 240p. ed. by Frits Gierstberg. photos. ISBN 9783791349275. $65. PHOTOG

Fortune, Brandon Brame & others. Elaine de Kooning: Portraits. DelMonico: Prestel. 2015. 160p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9783791354385. $49.95. FINE ARTS

Jodidio, Philip. The Japanese House Reinvented. Monacelli. 2015. 304p. illus. ISBN 9781580934060. $60. ARCH

Johnson, Alex. Improbable Libraries: A Visual Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Libraries. Univ. of Chicago. 2015. 240p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9780226263694. $27.50. ARCH

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector. Prestel. 2015. 272p. ed. by Lydia Yee. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9783791381527. $60. FINE ARTS


Bukowski, Charles. On Writing. Ecco: HarperCollins. Aug. 2015. 224p. ed. by Abel Debritto. photos. ISBN 9780062396006. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062395986. LIT

Dirda, Michael. Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books. Pegasus. Aug. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781605988443. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605988450. LIT

Enniss, Stephen. After the Titanic: A Life of Derek Mahon. Dufour Editions. Aug. 2015. 349p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780717164417. $50. LIT

Performing Arts

Cooper, David. Béla Bartók. Yale Univ. Jun. 2015. 456p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300148770. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780300213072. MUSIC

Hutcheon, Linda & Michael Hutcheon. Four Last Songs: Aging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten. Univ. of Chicago. Jun. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9780226255590. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780226255620. MUSIC

Soocher, Stan. Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun & Profit. ForeEdge. Sept. 2015. 288p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781611683806. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611688139. MUSIC


Rescher, Nicholas. A Journey Through Philosophy in 101 Anecdotes. Univ. of Pittsburgh. Jun. 2015. 304p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780822963356. pap. $19.95. PHIL


Mackey, Nathaniel. Blue Fasa. New Directions. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9780811224451. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811224468. POETRY

Spirituality & Religion

Jenkins, Philip. The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels. Basic. Oct. 2015. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9780465066926. $27.99. REL

Kushner, Aviya. The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible. Spiegel & Grau. Aug. 2015. 272p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385520829. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780679645269. REL

Sports & Recreation

Bennett, Alexander C. Kendo: Culture of the Sword. Univ. of California. Jul. 2015. 320p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780520284371. $32.95; ebk. ISBN 9780520959941. SPORTS

Sawchik, Travis. Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak. Flatiron. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781250063502. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250063519. SPORTS

Svrluga, Barry. The Grind: Inside Baseball’s Endless Season. Blue Rider. Jul. 2015. 192p. illus. ISBN 9780399176289. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698408036. SPORTS

Wheeler, Lonnie. Intangiball: The Subtle Things That Win Baseball Games. S.& S. Aug. 2015. 288p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781451696028. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451696042. SPORTS

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