RaveNew York Journal of Books... a bodacious single-spaced index and five densely packed chapters, plus an intriguing introduction, Major Labels can look and feel intimidating. As both music and cultural criticism, and also as an autobiography, it’s heavy in more ways than one. But not to worry. Kelefa Sanneh’s new book is user friendly ... If there’s one book about music that deserves to be read cover to cover this year it’s Kelefa Sanneh’s Major Labels. It’s bound to be a contemporary classic.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksUnfortunately, Solnit spends most of her time looking into the anti-communist crusades of the past, territory that has been exhumed again and again over the past 100 years. Why she has done that now isn’t clear ... What would Orwell have to say about the Trumpers, the Black Lives Matter folks, and the Taliban in 2021? That’s something his many fans would like to know ... Solnit doesn’t toot her own horn. She might have. After all, in her most recent book, she’s a contrarian who traces the path Orwell carved out in his provocative books, in timeless essays like \'Why I Write\' and in his garden, where he found a sanctuary from the harsh political winds of a world in crisis.
Katherine Wiltenburg Todrys
RaveNew York Journal of Books... a riveting account ... Black Snake offers a cast of thousands, but it also focuses on the lives of four Native American women: Lisa DeVille, Jasilyn Charger, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, and Kandi White. The book deftly weaves their individual stories ... All Americans who care about the fate of Native Americans and about clean water, clean air, and a non-toxic earth will find Todrys\' book inspiring.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... feels hurried, especially the last 200 or so pages in which the author describes her travels to Canada, Europe, Japan, and beyond. The pace can be dizzying. In her defense one might say that since this is her third autobiography, she has not had to conduct much research ... is nothing if not surprising, sometimes in disconcerting ways. Chicago often explains that she can\'t remember why she did something, and that her life often didn\'t turn out as she hoped and expected it would. For all her worldliness, she exhibits a surprising degree of naiveté ... She can occasionally be brilliant ... illuminating, irritating, flawed, informative, and a valuable teaching device for young artists, both men and women ... By describing her own journey, Chicago offers an unglamorous view of the life of an artist who became famous as well as infamous and who often didn\'t have enough money to live, but who always went back to her study to make more work. In that sense, Steinem is right. Judy Chicago is a miracle.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksPollan is very conscious about being a white man writing about Native American culture, which is not his own. He worries about appropriation, a sensitive subject these days, that runs all the way through his new book ... Pollan situates himself and his wife, Judith, in the thick of the action. For those who like personalized narratives this will be an attraction. Others might want to skip the autobiographical material and get to the information that the author has to offer about the substances he explores ... Again and again Pollan gives credit where credit is due ... What’s new and exciting in This Is Your Mind on Plants is that Pollan is both the reliable guide and the brave guinea pig, an explorer with an insatiable curiosity, but also with a keen sense of boundaries ... He’s not about to blow his own mind, and he doesn’t want to blow the minds of readers, either.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksFor those who want a close-up portrait of a complex society with a rich history and plenty of contradictions, My Old Home is an excellent place to begin ... My Old Home takes place in urban and rural China, and also in San Francisco, where Li lives as an exile and suffers the discomforts of nearly all exiles. One reviewer described the novel as didactic and rather plotless ... As an American, Schell knows the reading public in the U.S. As a longtime scholar of Chinese society, he’s familiar with a culture that has often struck Americans as exotic and strange ... Schell is to be congratulated for branching out and writing a gripping novel with believable characters and a strong sense of Chinese places. Some of the writing, especially at the end, is inspired and inspiring. It might sweep readers up and carry them into a colorful pageant with the clash of rival forces and seductive ideas.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksA modern masterpiece that\'s elegantly written ... a good introduction not only to Chaudhuri\'s writing, but also to Indian music, Indian culture, and Indian thought. The author is often at his best when he zigzags back and forth from Bob Dylan and Julie Andrews to Boy George, Dante, and Tagore, the Indian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Chaudhuri tells readers that critics of his own work have argued that he doesn\'t come to \'the point.\' There is some truth to that assertion. Chaudhuri approaches a point he wants to make and then backs away, only to approach the point again from another direction. It\'s also fair to say that he doesn\'t come to \'the point,\' but rather to many different points ... Perhaps the best thing about Finding the Raga is that it can make the reader a better listener and more aware of sounds ... It\'s a book for East and West, listeners and musicians, lovers of Hindustani classical music and American rock \'n\' roll.
Briona Simone Jones
RaveNew York Journal of BooksThis book might have been subtitled An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing. After all, it offers poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—some of it scholarly and historical, and some of it confessional, poetic, personal ... The bodies in Mouths of Rain belong to women who are Black and lesbian. They all belong to Americans, specifically North Americans. The presence of Black gay women from other countries would have added depth to this book. All revolutions and revolutionaries, whether they are political, spiritual, cultural, sexual, or a combination of all four, play with language ... an erotic coming out of the closet anthology that takes individual voices and weaves them together in a chorus that’s loud, raucous, and lyrical ... There’s also humor ... Now 75, Smith is a wise elder who ought to be far more widely known than she is. Mouths of Rain offers readers a rare opportunity to begin to hear the way her mind works.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksToday’s graduate students and lecturers at colleges and universities who want to make it in academia and the world of publishing might read this biography and take their cues from Said’s career...They might also learn how to offend friends and allies and how to sabotage their own careers ... pleases because it hues to the main contours of Said’s life and career, but also because of its many asides ... At times, Brennan abuses the word and the concept of influences on Said. It might be more accurate and perhaps a tad more elegant to say that Said positioned himself at the confluence of different and often contradictory concepts and aimed to weave them together ... Reading this lively biography might make one wonder how he managed to hold it together for as long as he did. Perhaps because of sheer will power and because he wanted to prove something to himself and to the world.
Viet Thanh Nguyen
RaveCounterpunchNguyen’s Big Red Books that waltz, tango and jitter bug with capitalism, colonialism, national liberation struggles, as we called them back in the day, and with communism and anti-communism ... It’s a delight to read Nguyen’s playfulness with language, which seems to have a life of its own and that teaches him a lexicon to navigate an underworld of sex, lies, betrayals and the ideals that lure men and women into the ranks of revolution and capitalism ... Nguyen borrows most of the clichés of pulp fiction, including the femme fatale, the fall guy and the fanatical wheeler dealer. He blows them up and lodges them in a drama that veers from farce to agitprop and romance. The big attraction is the author’s own intellectual pyrotechnics which rarely slow down, get lost in the nuances of the plot or in the unraveling of the characters who have cartoon-like names such as Grumpy, Shorty, Bon, Man, Boss, Mona Lisa, the Maoist Ph.D., BFD, and who are little more than scarecrows who enable the author to expound on Marx, Gramsci, Fanon and Mao ... The narrator in the second book is more than a bit insane and ought to be committed to a mental institution. But his madness enables him to see through hypocrisies and illusions.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... compelling ... Preston explores with aplomb and with a nose for news ... Preston leaves no stone unturned ... Preston puts all the information down on paper and doesn’t flinch ... Preston doesn’t make Maxwell into a likeable person, but his biography shows how important the mass media—\'the Fourth Estate\'—was throughout the 20th century.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksAt the start of Alison Stine’s first novel, Road Out of Winter, the protagonist, a young woman named Wylodine (known as Wil) leaves her rural home in Ohio and sets out for California. As the title indicates, this is a road novel, though it could also be described as post-apocalyptic fiction, or without the grandiose vocabulary, what happens when civilization as we know it falls apart ... It takes a while for Road out of Winter to get going, but once it gets going there’s no stopping it ... The novel doesn’t offer big Orwellian insights about the world in the immediate future. And there’s nothing that approximates Huxley’s Brave New World. The characters drive the plot and create the drama. Readers might want to find out if Wil makes it to California, which the characters imagine as a kind of paradise, though in Road Out of Winter it’s the journey itself not the destination that fuels the narrative. With one published novel under her belt and a feather in her cap, one hopes that Stine has another tale or two up her sleeves.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksWhat’s new and especially refreshing about Diane Cook’s new novel, The New Wilderness, are the finely drawn women characters ... The trouble with The New Wilderness is that it’s too long, takes too many pages to get going, and wanders all over the place before it begins to dramatize the push and the pull between mother and daughter ... Cook might have cut the book by half ... At times the writing is exciting. Also, at times the author’s psychological insights into her main characters can captivate the reader ... Cook packs a great many wilderness metaphors, tropes and images in The New Wilderness. She’s clearly familiar with the literary legacy of writing about trees, woods, and forests ... Fans of wilderness writing might discover that the book appeals to their sensibilities. Readers who find the going rough at the beginning of Cook’s novel might persevere.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... extravagant ... [Stone\'s] biggest, boldest book yet ... No matter what he makes, Stone is always in your face, whether \'you\' are the moviegoer, the reader, or the observer watching his wild antics in the mass media that has helped to make him the celebrity he is today ... Namby-pambies might not want to read Stone’s autobiography. Those who don’t want their cages rattled might also aim to avoid it. But troublemakers might find Chasing the Light precisely the kind of book that will energize, embolden, and arm their spirit ... Stone is big enough and self-confident enough to include the comments of his severest critics ... Stone has poured his own oversized contradictions into his autobiography ... When he describes the actual creative process he can be exceedingly helpful.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksIndian Sun is the first biography of Shankar. It will probably be the definitive work for now, though it may not be the best introduction to Shankar’s life and work ... Craske allows Shankar to speak for himself and to analyze himself. Shankar is surprisingly insightful about the emotional pain caused by his absent father, his many relationships with women from all over the world, and his complex interactions with his two daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka, from two different mothers, both of whom went on to become successful musicians ... Indian Sun is long on psychiatry, but not quite long enough on contemporary history. Still, Craske points out that Shankar’s star began to rise at about the same time that India became an independent country ... Indian Sun would make Shankar himself proud.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksYes, mammoth-sized biographies of the great writer will arrive one day, before too long, but Taylor’s intimate tale will never be replaced by any single work, no matter how big and comprehensive it is ... Unlike some memoirs written by the friends of famous people, this one doesn’t dish real dirt, though the information isn’t all glowing. Here We Are reveals Roth at home and up close, as he has never been revealed before. The reader hears him, sees him, and feels his palpable presence. Here he is, big as life eating, drinking, thinking, and laughing ... offers striking bits and memorable pieces from Roth’s monologues at the dinner table and beyond in which he talks about sex, women, marriage, and divorce ... Taylor says he spent thousands of hours with Roth. Only some are included here. One wonders which hours have been omitted. Many readers will want more. They’ll have to wait for the mammoth biography.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksWhat’s appealing about The Ox is that The Who’s bassist wasn’t a truly great rock star. By focusing on Entwistle...Rees is able to tell the story of The Who from the side, as it were. He look at Daltrey and Townshend from a slant, and yet without distorting the picture, including the drugs, affairs, womanizing, marriages, divorces, and the addiction to spending money ... Rees, a veteran rock reporter and journalist, makes ample use of a manuscript that Entwistle began, but never finished in which he meant to tell the inside story of his rise from anonymity to notoriety ... Entwistle’s language is refreshing. So is his point of view ... Like so many other biographies of famous musicians, The Ox offers a cautionary tale about a man who began songs and couldn‘t finish them, much as he started his autobiography and never got to the end.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksWeinberger’s detective speaks some Yiddish, which adds spice to this tale of crime and its detection in and around a synagogue where an unorthodox rabbi named Ezra dies while eating matzo ball soup ... Weinberger has sprinkled satire and a wry sense of humor on almost every page ... doesn’t just offer light entertainment, though there is plenty of that. It also offers plenty of stick-to-your-ribs-food for thought on Israel, anti-Semitism, Zionism, Jews, and Palestinians.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksIf they did, indeed, remake the world of women, as Moulton claims, they did not remake it as profoundly or as dramatically as their overtly political sisters, including Emmeline Pankhurst, who were suffragettes, who were arrested and jailed, and who won the right to vote for British women—not all at once but gradually ... has some of the ambiance of Downton Abbey. It could be transformed into a drama for Masterpiece Theater ... Readers might like to know what working class women in the East End of London were doing in this same time period ... Moulton moves deftly from Sayers to D. Rowe, to Frankenburg and the others, and also transports them graceful though the decades, though surely there was a way to be less circumspect about sex and gender. Now and then there are insightful comments are Sayers and Mac, for example, who apparently slept not only in separate beds, but separate rooms. A reader cries out for more ... Despite the limitations and omissions, The Mutual Admiration Society offers valuable information about Sayers’ career as a detective novelist who created the aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, a whimsical character, indeed, who has pleased legions of TV viewers ... While The Mutual Admiration Society weighs in a bit too heavily on the pedantic side of storytelling, the details definitely take readers back to a time and place that no longer exists, except in fiction and history.
RaveThe San Francisco ChronicleOrtiz doesn’t ignore the darker sides of Indian life and history, including Indian ownership of black slaves before the Civil War, but for the most part she points an accusatory finger at the settlers, soldiers and U.S. presidents who waged what she describes as genocidal warfare against foes labeled \'savages\' and \'barbarians\' ... An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States isn’t based on original research. But it synthesizes a vast body of scholarship, much of it by Indians themselves, and provides an antidote to the work of historians who have rationalized the settling of the West and the \'civilizing\' of the Indians. Ortiz praises Indian acts of resistance, honors Indian warriors such as Tananka Yotanka (Sitting Bull), and calls for mending and healing the whole nation. Her book belongs on the shelf next to Dee Brown’s classic, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksFoner has a knack for looking at past conflicts through the lens of the present, without allowing the present to distort the past ... reads like Foner’s last valiant attempt to place Reconstruction front and center in the \'public consciousness\'...If the book doesn’t succeed, that is not the fault of the author who has told a compelling story with dramatic incidents, colorful historical figures and a sense of compassion ... At times, one wishes the author was less tentative than he is, as when he writes that racism was \'perhaps\' the \'most powerful legacy of slavery.\' Why the word \'perhaps\'? And if racism was indeed the most powerful legacy of slavery, what progress if any has the nation made? ... This book will probably not comfort readers troubled by the present moment, but it will provide them with a clear view of a fractious past, and encourage them, in the words of the Civil Rights movement, \'To keep your eyes on the prize.\'
RaveNew York Journal of Books...spectacular...and illuminating ... Messineo wears her own feelings close to the surface and tracks her own emotional ups and down and her abuse of alcohol and opioids to which she had relatively easy access ... Messineo vividly describes [w]hat it feels like, and what it looks and sounds like, to stand alone in the darkness at the edge of a body of water hell-bent on catching a fish, no easy feat for a newcomer or a seasoned fisherman ... Readers who like to eat and to fish and who have enjoyed summers on Martha’s Vineyard might appreciate Casting into the Light. Messineo’s book is a great introduction to the island, its geography, topography, and history, including some of the history of the Indians who were the first humans to fish for striped bass ... It offers a compelling and candid story of an unrelenting pursuit for meaning and happiness.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksIn this densely packed memoir, it’s not really the destination that matters most, but rather the journey itself that goes over very rough territory and asks probing questions about race, ethnicity, and racism ... honest, unflinching, and true to herself ... Valentine sheds light on the pathological American obsession with race. She shows how devastating racism can be, both for people who identify as white and people who identify as black ... goes all over the place. It might have been more focused and less all encompassing, though that would have been a challenge ... to read [Valentine\'s] memoir is to go through a psychological inferno. It’s not for everyone. But it can be rewarding for those who make the arduous journey.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksNothing’s Bad Luck follows the format. It does what a biography of a rock star is supposed to do and what readers want. It’s also unique in part because there was no other singer/song writer/musician like Warren Zevon ... Moreover, there’s been no biographer like C. M. Kushins, a native New Yorker and a freelance journalist, who pours in this book his heart and soul, as well as his love for Zevon’s lyrics and his music. Nothing’s Bad Luck will drive Zevon fans back to his albums ... C. M. Kushins shows that Zevon was an original poet with a vivid imagination ...
Readers might make the effort to plunge into Kushins’ uncommonly empathetic biography of the man who wrote \'Send Lawyers, Guns and Money,\' and much more, and who contributed to the great body of American folklore and legend.
PanThe Huffington PostUnfortunately, [Dunbar-Ortiz] loses sight of her own contradictions while she traces the history of violence in the United States, which she has no problem connecting to racism, militarism, nationalism and the idea of \'white supremacy\' ... Dunbar-Ortiz has a way of withholding crucial information until it comes across as an afterthought ... Like many historians, Dunbar-Ortiz selects those incidents that support her argument and ignores those that don’t support her argument ... At times, Loaded reads like an assault on the profession of American historians.
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksNotes from a Young Black Chef—which includes more than a dozen recipes for dishes such as \'hot chicken and waffles\' and \'steak and eggs\'—offers a compelling narrative of an ambitious and at times arrogant young man from the Bronx who joined a gang, sold drugs, inevitably landed into trouble, and then turned his life around ... Notes from a Young Black Chef is a compelling memoir when the author describes his nurturing relationship with his mother and his confrontations with a brutal father ... The story of Onwuachi’s climb up, with its attendant pitfalls, is masterful. The closer to the top, the more the story falters ... Readers might linger over the first half of this book, turn those pages slowly and savor the spicy stew that the author serves.
MixedNew York Journal of Books\"At times, The Damascus Road feels like it might be a true account of the life of Paul, though it can also feel overly reverential and in need of more humor and less hagiography, though the pious might feel that Parini isn’t sufficiently reverential ... The Damascus Road might be read as a parable of our own times with its mad men, visionaries, true believers, and pagans, but unlike Saint Paul, Parini wisely steers clear of moral lessons and sermonizing.\
PositiveNew York Journal of BooksPhelan’s book has a lot of charm going for it, though the narrative tends to fall apart in the last portion and to become a series of portraits ... He writes exceedingly well about his parents, especially his Dad, JohnJoe, who raised cattle and pigs and taught his son valuable lessons ... At the front of this book Phelan explains that, \'some of the dialogue has been re-created.\' Still, it doesn’t feel forced. Indeed, the expressions are colorful. Many of them are worth of the price of the book itself ... We Were Rich feels authentic, conversational, and casual, though it might have been worked over many times ... We Were Rich is a wonderful introduction to an Irish boyhood and to a way of life that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a perfect gift for St. Patrick’s Day or any other day of the year.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Indeed, Go Ahead in the Rain is all over the place and with great ease ... What holds all the desperate elements together is Abdurraqib himself. Go Ahead in the Rain is a musical memoir in which the narrator comes of age and becomes a man ... Abdurraqib is insightful about sibling rivals, cool, un-cool, and the gap between the two ... At times, [Abdurraqib] can be deep.\
Gabriela Alemán, Trans. by Dick Cluster
PositiveSan Francisco ChronicleMixing satire with fantasy and ribald humor, [Alemán] creates an imaginary wasteland called Poso Wells where hundreds of women disappear mysteriously and grotesque occurrences happen every day ... Dick Cluster, the translator, has fused the poetic with the tabloid and brought the work of one of Latin America’s rising literary stars to readers in North America. Poso Wells can be read with pleasure in one long sitting and then reread for nuances and subtleties that surprise and entertain.
RaveThe San Francisco Chronicle\"Crouch’s biography will certainly make him better known than he is today, albeit by a small circle of scholars ... In the book’s first half, there’s hardly a direct quotation from Mackay, and that’s too bad. He’s a silent as well as invisible man ... No one does a better job than Crouch when he explores the subject of mining, and no one does a better job than he when he describes the hardscrabble lives of miners.\
RaveThe New York Journal of BooksThe Lives of the Surrealists is comprehensive. It also opens the doors to further study and exploration. Morris knows the intimate details about the personal lives of the surrealists. Those details are quirky and fascinating ... Morris doesn’t analyze or interpret the work of the surrealists. And that’s a good thing. He presents biographical information about the artists and leaves it to readers to connect the dots between art and autobiography, or to leave them unconnected and to bask in the glory of the work for its own sake ... perfect for readers who don\'t know much if anything about the surrealists, but who are curious about them and want to learn more.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksDr. Lamas is good on the subject of medical communication, or lack of same, especially between the doctor and the patient, the hospital and the world outside that’s inhabited by friends and family of the chronically sick ... Dr. Lamas communicates clearly, explains rare conditions like Marfan Syndrome, and defines medical terms ... She also humanizes the people she writes about ... The modern hospital is a technological hub and You Can Stop Humming Now describes the complex machines that keep the sick and the infirm alive and breathing, heart pumping and lungs working. Indeed, some of the patients in these pages seem more like bionic creatures than human beings, though Dr. Lamas never stops seeing them and treating them as kith and kin.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books\"Michelle Tea is a child of the punk universe, working class culture, and an American original. Accept her challenge and read her if you dare. You’ll find her furious and funny ... Against Memoir will transport you into a strange and wonderful world that’s worth exploring.\
RaveUSA TodayThe Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma\'s Table...is a collection of stories — wonderful, rollicking, poignant, sometimes hilarious tales about how generations of Bragg’s extended family survived from one meal to the next ... the reader can skip the recipes altogether and concentrate on the stories wrapped lovingly around them — and still get a cooking lesson, how Margaret Bragg made plain food, well-seasoned, taste like a preview of kingdom come.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksYou can read this book for the stories, or the recipes, or for the language. Or for all of the above. It’s likely that you’ll find this book mouth-watering and likely, too, that you’ll want to eat traditional Southern cooking of the sort that Rick Bragg’s \'momma\' made ... The Best Cook in the World celebrates poor Southern whites, though to read about the food that the author’s family ate most of the time they might not have thought of themselves as poor, or even as white. There’s very little in this book about skin color, race, and African Americans. One wonders why Bragg didn’t venture into the complex and tangled arena of black/white relationships in the Old South ... In addition to the bragging, there’s Bragg family lore and legend. Still, there are plenty of family photos to go with the family legends, so you know the people are real, or at least as real as a photograph can be ... The book definitely conjures a world with its own sights, sounds, and smells.