MixedThe San Francisco ChronicleIf you can get past the author’s self-regard — and at least one reader nearly could not — her book includes a few nice insights. Lennon’s celebrated \'house husband\' period of the late 1970s, for instance, in which he doted on Sean, his son with Yoko Ono, was to Jones’ mind a belated balm for his own troubled childhood: the absent dad, the wayward mother who died too young.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleEnter the mind of Charlie Kaufman at your own risk. There are all kinds of hidden tunnels and portals in there, alternate dimensions, memory loops and animated figurines ... This hefty, often hilariously surreal saga has many of the familiar hallmarks of Kaufman’s film oeuvre. Like 1999’s Being John Malkovich, it’s a spelunking excursion into the murkiest recesses of a human skull ... Antkind is loaded with gags. It’s got clowns (and clown fetishes). You want puns? There are copious puns ... Antkind is about humankind. It’s about our follies, our pretenses, our misperceptions ... And that, I’d have to say, is pretty funny.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeRuth’s legend is one of the most overplayed in American lore: the carousing overgrown boy who changed the game with his prodigious power. In the context of war and pandemic, however, his story gets a fresh scrub.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDodge loves to futz with language. He can marshal it beautifully ...he has an impish tendency to send readers scrambling to the dictionary ... If you’re looking for a blow-by-blow account of Dodge’s artistic career — from the Sundance-selected By Hook or by Crook (2002) to his more recent video and sculptural works exhibited in group shows — that’s only here in fits and starts ... [Dodge] is as reluctant to write about his own work as he claims to be, these days, about making the scene.
William T. Vollmann
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle... a book that sails effortlessly past the 600-page mark ... Vollmann has a penchant for writing about sex, and he holds back little. There are moments when it seems the novel doesn’t have any real destination in mind beyond the next climax...And yet some worthy themes emerge ... Vollmann is harsh on his characters ... Though it is set in recent years, The Lucky Star is really a lament for the old, dirty San Francisco, the city of Kathy Acker and Seth Morgan, and Vollmann’s own earlier work ... With this confounding, intermittently entertaining book, we can consider the author’s nostalgia for the old San Francisco squared. Unless, that is, he has a few thousand more pages in him.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleLike the experience of every Burning Man camper since the move to the desert, Shister’s book doesn’t always unfold according to plan. He’s better at spinning yarns and turning phrases...than defending his thesis. But then, at Burning Man, everyone brings something unique to the party ... It’s apparent than Shister’s Burning Man experiences—several since his reluctant first in 2013—have changed him. Whether they’ve changed the whole world is another story. Maybe it’s just a matter of tweaking the book’s subtitle into \'How Burning Man Could Change the World.\'
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[Haddon] has spun a fantastical yarn using fibers from the Pericles legend, the Shakespeare-Wilkins association, and his own modern-day interpretation ... Haddon is a writer of acute precision ... The plot thickens from the first pages ... Admirers...may recognize the author’s knack for capturing the emotional gulfs between human beings ... There are a few loose ends in The Porpoise and connections float by in a sea of allusion. The aquatic mammal of the title appears as an omen, an apparition, two ships’ names, and carved and painted keepsakes. In dream theory, the porpoise represents balance, healing, and the redemption of water. For Angelica, the porpoise shows the way out.
MixedThe Boston Globe\"... a definitive biography, one that effectively toggles between gleeful gossip-dishing (as befits Hudson’s era of film-world glitz) and a genuine affection and admiration for the man behind the screen presence ... The book gradually takes on a repetitive rhythm: the requisite plot synopsis of Hudson’s next film, followed by a pre-Tinder profile of his latest boy toy. The author’s tone is a little too chummy; more often than not, Hudson is referred to as \'Rock.\' But Griffin’s biography finds its deeper meaning when his subject, long past his top-billing days and working in a supporting role on the prime-time soap opera \'Dynasty,\' attends a state dinner at the White House in 1984 [and the AIDS epidemic becomes the focus].\
Ben Bradlee Jr.
PositiveThe Boston GlobeWe’ve heard time and again, as the argument goes, that the mostly white middle-class citizens who supported Trump felt threatened by the nation’s changing ethnic makeup and the globalization of production. Why keep banging the same note? As Bradlee’s insightful work shows, it would behoove Democrats to keep listening ... You can practically hear Bradlee, whose previous books include biographies of Oliver North and Ted Williams, bending over backward to give his interviewees their say. He paraphrases much of their dialogue for readability’s sake, but there are stretches that feel like Studs Terkel-style oral history ... The key to Trump’s election, Bradlee concludes, were the voters who felt aggrieved by their economic marginalization, \'and by a dominant liberal culture that condescends to them and mocks their way of life.\' In a book full of hard truths, that one might be the hardest of all.
Ryan H. Walsh
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleLike Robert Gordon’s It Came From Memphis, Walsh’s book re-creates a time and place that attracted an impressive array of characters, some of whom (like Rowan, or the DJ and rock star Peter Wolf) went on to achieve big things, and others (like the cult leader Mel Lyman) who effectively fell off the face of the earth ... Walsh digs himself all the way down a rabbit hole of epic, site-specific peculiarity, from the ill-fated \'Bosstown Sound\' record industry marketing campaign to Tony Curtis playing the Boston Strangler ... \'The mystery grows,\' as the album’s producer, Lewis Merenstein, told the author, \'because it’s all a spiritual quest that is essentially unknowable.\'
PositiveThe Boston GlobeIn its own way, the language of Green earns it a spot on the continuum of vernacular in the American literary tradition, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Catcher in the Rye and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ... ‘With the best writing, you risk offending someone. . . . Instead of writing one big thing about race, I wanted to write 100 things about race.’
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleThe fabulosity of Bowie’s life and times lends itself extraordinarily well to the oral history form ... The adulation is rampant, though several commentators take pains to point out that Bowie had his unsavory side — the cocaine, the brief flirtation with Nazism, the deflowering of an underage girl. 'A normal, flawed human being,' don’t you know, in one contributor’s estimation.
The speed with which Jones must have worked to capitalize on Bowie’s unexpected death in January 2016, and the outpouring of grief it uncorked, is sometimes laid bare. The jumps from one theme to the next can be jarring ... Yet David Bowie: A Life is, on the whole, a total blam-bam. Mostly it’s the excitement of picturing Bowie’s mind at work.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleDeCurtis’ biography (not the first since Reed’s death four years ago at age 71, and it won’t be the last) makes a case for Reed’s influence that’s as durable as black leather. Reed combined literary aspirations with a fearless eye for deviance and, by extension, a staunch defense of freedom of expression … In DeCurtis’ analysis, Reed knew from an early age, when he was kicking against his parents’ suburban Jewish lifestyle, that rock ’n’ roll could be a medium for the kind of subversive literature that was, by the late 1950s, challenging the polite middle class he’d been born into.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Rolling Stone has managed to chronicle both — the substantial and the tawdry — consistently over its bumpy half-century journey. Hagan’s book manages both with a rich bounty of lively anecdotes ... It’s easy to see why Wenner might not be thrilled with the book. One of the first descriptive phrases Hagan trots out for the publisher is \'boy vampire\' ... there’s plenty here that Wenner would admire were he not the man in the viewfinder.\
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleYou’d expect the book she got out of it to be engrossing, and it is ... To her credit, Hesse mostly lets the metaphors speak for themselves. Instead, she sticks to the facts of the case and the bewilderment of the local inhabitants, fire personnel and authority figures, all of whom were, to one extent or another, victims of the unusual crimes ... Ultimately, in Hesse’s telling, American Fire is less a story about economics than how fire is like a love affair: Sometimes it can rage out of control, but it inevitably gives way to dying embers. 'Love is a weird act,' she concludes. It’s unfathomable even to the two people consumed by it. Almost by definition, those two people are mutually deluded.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThis long, episodic memoir consists of dozens of short, discursive chapters, some told in verse. It sometimes reads like first-draft material handwritten in a composition book, though the cumulative effect is far more substantial than that ... As ever, Alexie is obligingly funny, even when the subject matter seems anything but ... Alexie, who seems to be forever smiling, has a lightness, a pronounced mischievous side, that helps his tribal songs go down easier than maybe they should.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleA neurotic, prickly, intensely private man, Zinoman’s subject would be an unlikely one for a compelling biography, were it not for the fact that his on-air irreverence defined a generation: he ‘became the face of an ironic sensibility that permeated comedy, television, and popular culture’ … As Zinoman points out, Letterman’s show covered three distinct eras, from the skewed perspective on TV traditions of his earliest years to the fully committed inanity of the later 1980s, followed by a long, slow descent into a focus on the host’s own bizarre, bitter psyche.
MixedThe San Francisco Chronicle...[a] gruff and amusing memoir ... For bibliophiles and those with a renewed investment in guarding the First Amendment, Rosset’s long-overdue account of his career in publishing is a welcome addition to all those musty old Grove paperbacks. Recalling the implications of his first big censorship battle, for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, he writes, 'It would be a savage kick in the face to Death and a lovely kiss to Life.' That could have been the company slogan.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle...[a] rowdy, witty and frequently heartstring-strumming autobiography ... one of the true rewards of this long-awaited memoir is Springsteen’s exemplary ability to make sense of himself — and acknowledge the times when he couldn’t ... Just when he’s getting all deep on us — just like the flow of one of his legendarily marathon concerts, come to think of it — he’ll crack you up with his self-deprecation ... There are many more moments of beauty spiced with humor — of sheer human feeling — in these pages. And that, despite the author’s occasional admissions of uncertainty, is certainly not nothing.
PositiveThe San Francisco Chronicle[Vance] seesaws back and forth between a fierce loyalty to his kin, especially his maternal 'Mamaw' and 'Papaw' — the rough-and-tumble grandparents who nurtured him in their own flinty way — and his emotional need to disavow his extended family’s tendencies toward aggression, bad relationships and substance abuse ... Reading his 'Elegy,' it’s sometimes difficult to decide just what it is he’s lamenting: the realities of underprivileged lives, or the ideas of them.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleIf Cohen’s new book has some apparent shortcomings, they tend to mirror the band’s own — apathy, bluster, ruthlessness. Not coincidentally, that puts it on the short list of worthwhile books about the Stones ... While the book is stuffed with insights, too often Cohen explains how he visited a site of interest or interviewed someone who was once close to the Stones, only to toss away what he found there. Like Richards, he’d much rather just riff.
MixedSan Francisco ChronicleIn his ninth nonfiction book (he’s also turned out four novels and several essay collections), the very droll Dyer makes a series of pilgrimages, then wonders what all the fuss was about. The fact that the reader knows that this will be his reaction takes away nothing from the amusement, and occasional enlightenment, of the journey. That’s Dyer’s specialty. If the arrival is inevitably disappointing, that doesn’t make the getting there any less worthy of the effort.
PositiveThe San Francisco ChronicleThere’s no way to 'figure out' James Brown, McBride acknowledges at the outset. Nevertheless, he gives it an admirable go; he’s flinty and funny, seeing in the singer the frustrated promises of the land that spawned him ... Brown’s innate urge to move was also a big part of his downfall, and McBride handles that part of the story with uncommon sensitivity. Finally relegated to an oldies act by the 1990s, Brown’s last years were a study in dissolution.
RaveThe Boston Globe...a close, exceptionally well-written look into the game’s epidemic of ruptured elbow ligaments, and the hard fact that medical science still has no real answers for it ... Passan dispels a few myths, offering proof, for example, that the overhand throwing motion is not inherently unnatural for human beings. 'What’s unnatural,' he writes, 'is throwing a five-and-a-quarter-ounce sphere ninety-plus miles per hour one hundred times every five days.'
MixedThe Boston GlobeIn some ways, his book is as much about the absence of facial hair as its presence. The act of shaving has been consistently associated 'with some kind of transcendence of the body,' he writes. Still, there’s no getting around it: In this latest addition to the field of gender theory, the body will not be denied.
PositiveThe Boston Globe...[Simon] has been grappling with self-esteem for much of her life, as readers of this florid, seductively candid autobiography will learn.
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleUnfaithful Music is often exasperating, but then so is its subject...Just when it seems as though the incomparably talented, undeniably egotistical Costello has worn out his welcome, he draws the reader back in with one of his patented bouts of self-loathing. It’s a charming trick that has served his exquisitely barbed music especially well over his four-plus decades in the business.