A co-editor of George Orwell’s Complete Works offers a lushly annotated edition of Orwell’s diaries from 1931 to 1949.
Born Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell, as these diaries reveal, lived a varied and even dichotomized life. A reader who visited the majority of these pages could never guess that they recorded the activities of the author of Animal Farm, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and 1984, a book he completed while suffering from the tuberculosis that would kill him. (Among the most poignant pages here are Orwell’s lists of his hospital routines just weeks before he died.) Many of the author’s entries deal with his activities on his farm. We learn how many eggs his hens laid each day, his battles with hungry rabbits and deer, his killing of the occasional snake, his observations of the weather, and his maintenance of the property. One moment of great excitement was his near-death in a whirlpool in the Gulf of Corryvreckran. Earlier sections of the diary deal with his abject poverty in the 1930s. He traveled around picking hops (a process he describes in some detail); he was down and out in Paris and London; he traveled to the Mediterranean. In all these places, he noted human customs and flora and fauna. In 1939, Orwell kept daily track of events that were leading toward world war but interwove odd moments about earwigs, a dead cat and the properties of goat manure. In the diary he kept during World War II, he found himself becoming accustomed to continual bombing in London. He joined the Home Guard but noted that their rickety weapons would hardly retard the expected German invasion.
Editor Davison (English/De Montfort Univ.) supplies necessary contextual information and footnotes generously, but stays in the shadows and allows us to truly enjoy Orwell’s impressive chronicles.
The acclaimed novelist (Sunset Park, 2010, etc.), now 65, writes affectingly about his body, family, lovers, travels and residences as he enters what he calls the winter of his life.
Written entirely in the second person and, loosely, using the format of a journal (undated entries), Auster’s memoir courses gracefully over ground that is frequently rough, jarring and painful: the deaths of his parents, conflicts with his relatives (he settles some scores), poor decisions (his first marriage), accidents (a car crash that could have killed him) and struggles in his early career. But there are summery memories, as well: his love of baseball (begun in boyhood), his fondness for Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, his relationship with his mother, world travels (not all cheery; he recalls a near fistfight with a French taxi driver), books and friends. Most significant: his 30-year relationship with his wife, writer Siri Hustvedt (unnamed here), whom he continually celebrates. Some of the loveliest sentences in the text—and there are many—are illuminated by love. Near the end, Auster recalls visits with her family in Minnesota, a terrain so unlike what he knew (he lives in Brooklyn). Here, too, are moments of failure (not speaking up when he should have), of illness and injury, of sly humor. The author follows a grim description of a bout with the crabs with a paean to nature that begins, “Ladybugs were considered good luck.” Auster indulges in the occasional rant—he goes off on the crudities of contemporary culture—and delivers numerous moments of artful craft.
A consummate professional explores the attic of his life, converting rumination to art.
A terrifically useful wide-lens survey of the United States in the last half of the 20th century.
Freeman (History/Queens Coll. and CUNY Graduate Center; Working-Class New York: Life and Labor Since World War II, 2000, etc.) has full command of his vast material, fashioning a structured history that is both readably general and restrained of scholarly matter as well as nicely specific regarding meaty information—e.g., he names important court cases and offers occasional quotes by contemporary observers and newsmakers. The author demonstrates how postwar economic growth helped spur the great process of democratization that placed America in the first rank among nations in terms of standard of living and basic rights for all citizens. Yet, along with the rise of consumerism, globalism and prosperity, the power shifted from the public to the private realm, specifically corporate. From the 1970s onward, Freeman shows how incipient economic inequality, unharnessed military spending and burgeoning political conservatism threatened to check much of that social progress at the end of the century. The expansion of government with the New Deal promoting socially benevolent programs generated an ongoing debate about whether government should be a muscular arm of progressive reform in the fashion of FDR or more restrained, the latter conservatism given new energy by Barry Goldwater’s ascendancy in 1960. Freeman comes down fairly hard on Kennedy’s “hyperbolic rhetoric” and “obsession with manhood and virility,” while the sections on LBJ and the “democratic revolution” of the 1960s, including civil-rights legislation and the antiwar movement, are masterly and thorough. With the dawn of the ’70s, the country moved from “dreams to nightmares,” from equal rights for women and gays toward an utter contempt for government amid Watergate, urban decline, manufacturing shutdowns, stagflation, new corporate models, deregulation and Reaganism.
A liberal-minded but still evenhanded primer for all students of U.S. history.
A novelist's unflinching analysis of her failed marriage.
Cusk (The Bradshaw Variations, 2010, etc.) fixes an unnervingly steady gaze on the breakdown of her domestic life. “There was nothing left to dismantle,” she writes, “except the children, and that would require the intervention of science.” In her third memoir, the author brings together elements of a well-constructed novel—it’s compelling and even thrilling, despite the fact that the story is unsurprising and banal (man meets woman, and they create a family; family falls apart; man, woman and children grieve)—and its novelistic feel is a credit to Cusk's literary risk-taking. She doesn't tell her tale straight; instead, she weaves in figures from ancient Greek drama (Oedipus, Antigone, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra) and thickens the bare-bones plot with striking, elaborate turns of phrase and powerful images. The last and most unorthodox chapter is told, by Cusk, from the perspective of her au pair Sonia, a scared, scarred girl whom the author abruptly fired when her husband left (though she did provide her with another job). What is most startling about the Sonia chapter is not that the self-sufficient, Oxford-educated Cusk so convincingly inhabits the mind of an unskilled, young foreigner, but that she is willing to expose herself at her worst: cold, harsh, pitiless and even cruel to a woman far more vulnerable than she.
Bold, gripping, original and occasionally darkly funny.
A comprehensive, sharply written journey through the music of sadness, of every stripe and from every genre.
In his first book, Houghtaling takes what could have been a routine collection of lists and turns it into a highly useful roadmap through musical melancholy. Helpfully arranged by topics that cover everything from heartbreak to death to apocalyptic doom and all the many subcategories in between (divorce, depression, suicidal despair, murder, etc.), the book provides both highly specific playlists (e.g., songs to cover every one of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief) and the context to go with them. Houghtaling delves into the physiology of sadness, such as the way the body responds to sad music and how the aging process enriches a singer’s voice. Mini essays shed light on world-class mopes (Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Nico, The Cure, Townes Van Zandt), fascinating obscurities (16th-century weeper John Dowland, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, East River Pipe, The Field Mice) and key tracks in every genre (Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”). The author also includes a well-annotated list of the “100 Saddest Songs.” Houghtaling can get hyperbolic (anything involving The Smiths), and there are some slight omissions (No P.J. Harvey or Lefty Frizzell?), but the book is buoyed throughout by the author’s thoughtful approach and enthusiasm.
Whether read straight through or dipped into at random, in times of despair or not, this is a most helpful musical sourcebook through every kind of blue.
Veteran character actor Tobolowsky, perhaps best known for his role in Groundhog Day, offers a beguiling collection of autobiographical essays detailing his experiences in and out of show business.
The actor has plenty of rich material to mine—he has been held hostage at gunpoint by a lunatic, suffered an apocalyptic infestation of fleas, barely eluded a goring by a bull, and auditioned with a broken neck—but the delight of the book is the author’s voice: wry, discursive and full of generous spirit and curiosity. Tobolowsky recounts his various heartbreaks, struggles as a young artist and status as a bemused member of the human race with unfailing wit and gratitude for the richness and strangeness of life, marveling at the small miracles and surprising reversals that inform relationships and careers. Occasionally the author’s observations skirt along the fringe of New Age platitudes, but a leavening lack of pretention prevents the spiritual content from curdling, and there is always another jaw-dropping anecdote around the corner to carry the proceedings. Tobolowsky contributes intriguing insights into the absurdities of TV and film production (his description of acting against a green screen is particularly amusing), the politics of graduate school life and the perils of pet ownership, endowing both the most mundane and rarified endeavors with equally close attention and appreciation. His reminiscences of the early days of the AIDS crisis and the decline and death of his mother provide the collection with profound emotional ballast, but even in the heavier sections Tobolowsky’s light touch and effortless empathy delight and sustain readers’ engagement.
A copiously examined life rendered with humor and heart.
A provocative, compelling exploration of one of the most controversial elements of the black entertainment world.
Chicago Review Press senior editor Taylor and Roctober magazine editor Austen explore the long history not only of African-American involvement in minstrel performances, but also of black-derived comedy that utilizes elements from the minstrel act—exaggerated stereotypes of the black experience that hearken back to the minstrel shows of the 19th century. More precisely, the authors examine the debates over these myriad forms of entertainment and the accusations of minstrelsy that have often embroiled black entertainers and intellectuals in fevered debates over the nature and depiction of the black experience. Taylor and Austen deftly argue that African-Americans have taken on perceived minstrelsy in one of three ways. The first has been simply to embrace such forms of entertainment and comedy. The second has been to signify on them—i.e., to engage in self-aware parody and wry utilization of elements of minstrelsy to make a larger point. The third approach involves waging war on such stereotypes, which often leads to heated accusations and counterattacks. The authors take a kaleidoscopic look at their topic, emphasizing a diverse range of individuals and works, including blackface entertainer Bert Williams, writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, Stanley Crouch’s attacks on Tupac Shakur as a “thug minstrel,” Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled and comedian Dave Chappelle’s self-exile when he reached the conclusion that his own work had moved uncomfortably from comedy about stereotyping to enabling the very stereotypes he was combating.
An innovative, marvelous book about comedy, stereotypes and the struggle to steer through the sometimes-fierce internal debates over African-American identity in a society still struggling with its racial past.
Gorra (English/Smith Coll.; The Bells in Their Silence: Travels Through Germany, 2004, etc.) blends a focused biography of Henry James (1843–1916) with the story of his composition of The Portrait of a Lady (1881).
Throughout this work of astonishing scholarship, Gorra directs our attention to the quotidian life of James (and his remarkable family), his composition of the novel (which first appeared in serial installments in the Atlantic here and Macmillan’sMagazine in England), the significance of the events and characters in the story, and the influence of the novel on the subsequent fiction of James and others. Gorra also blends accounts of his own visits to important James sites in America, England and elsewhere. After a brief introduction to James’ life and to the novel, the author establishes his narrative pattern: chapters about the novel followed by others about James’ activities, family, friends, typists, contemporaries and so on. We read about his relationships with Atlantic editor William Dean Howells and with James’ gifted brother William. We follow his travels to England, France and Italy; we visit his final home in Rye; we view his intimate relationships with Constance Fenimore Woolson and others—including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Gorra does not accept the suggestion that Holmes and James had sexual encounters). We also see him, near the end of his life, visiting and comforting hospitalized World War I soldiers. But most of Gorra’s book examines Portrait—its creation, significance and revision (for the New York Edition in 1908). The author argues that chapter 42 of the novel, Isabel Archer’s reverie, is “one of James’ greatest achievements and a turning point in the history of the novel.”
Not for all readers, but Gorra’s approach will appeal to scholars, fans of the James family, and lovers of important novels and those who create them.
A savage journey into terror, cacti, drugs, desperation and all-around anomie in the superheated atmosphere of the desert Southwest.
Go east of Los Angeles 100 miles and you’re in downtown Tweakerville, an area full of meth labs, bad vibes and bad attitudes. The desert runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and Martínez (Literature and Writing/Loyola Marymount Univ.; Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, 2001, etc.) makes it his beat. The narrative begins in Albuquerque, a city that “cannot imagine itself a city because to do so would negate its reason for being.” It moves, subtly and without much fanfare, from the Southwest of the boom years, when the population of the region grew by 25 percent in just a decade, to the Southwest of today, a place of abandoned suburbs and forgotten hopes. Some of the ports of call are familiar—Joshua Tree, El Paso—and others not, but what sets Martínez’s journey apart is its philosophical underpinnings, the governing question being, “Who belongs here and who doesn’t?” By that reckoning, the adobe shacks, tattered palm trees and sun-bitten desert flats are all perfectly at home, whereas such things as the Santa Fe Opera, and most of Phoenix, and walls and fences that run parallel to the international line…well, not so much. As for the people, Martínez finds room for the likes of Mary Austin and Charles Lummis alongside the Native Americans and Latinos who have made the desert home for centuries. It is the latter people who are forgotten; toward the end of the book, for instance, the author quietly contrasts the well-heeled confines of Marfa, Texas, with the rest of Presidio County, half of whose people live in poverty.
Less self-absorbed than Luis Alberto Urrea, less cynical than Charles Bowden, less otherly obsessed than William Vollmann—and right in the pocket, a necessary chronicle of a weird corner of America.
The haunting account of an investigative journalist's efforts to uncover her family's hidden Sephardic Jewish past.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Paris-based New York Times journalist Carvajal began to experience “a strange yearning for something indefinable—a sense of refuge, of belonging.” She also wanted to “fill in the deep, black holes” of memory that persisted in her Catholic family's history. Eventually, the author moved to Arcos de la Frontera, a town located in the same Spanish province where her father's family had originated. From this vantage point, she began to explore the fascinating, fraught history of the Sephardic Jews, who had been forced to become Catholic converts or exiles. She learned about the double lives of many of the conversos and the secret, often ingenious ways they developed to pay tribute to their true heritage. Carvajal also began to understand the ways in which Judaism had infused such time-honored and apparently Catholic traditions as the saeta, a song performed during Holy Week to pay homage to life-sized images of Christ or the Virgin Mary. Her quest for knowledge about los sefarditas soon evolved alongside a parallel quest for information about her family's past. Dissatisfied with the vague responses she received from relatives about family history, she pursued DNA testing, which offered tantalizing hints rather than conclusive answers to her questions. Carvajal finally found the “defining clue that resolved all doubts.” As was the case with so much else they and other Sephardic Jews had left behind, the answers, though encrypted, were in plain sight, awaiting eyes that could decipher the truth.
A mesmerizing journey through time, across cultures and into one woman's rich personal history.
A kaleidoscopic look at the FBI’s willingness to undermine American citizens during the 1960s.
Former San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Rosenfeld explores the many ways in which J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI undermined the rights and especially the privacy of American citizens in his efforts to undercut the many protest movements that emerged at the University of California, Berkeley, in the ’60s. Hoover had long been concerned with events at one of the country’s greatest universities, and as the decade progressed, the FBI utilized increasingly devious cloak-and-dagger methods to address those concerns. In addition to Hoover, Rosenfeld focuses on other significant figures, interweaving their stories into his larger narrative. Mario Savio, the star-crossed leader of many of the student movements, drew much of Hoover’s ire. He also drew the ire of Ronald Reagan, an outspoken critic of the left in Berkeley who, upon assuming the governorship of California, created the perfect conditions for his friend and ally Hoover to step up his already pervasive investigations. Caught in between was Clark Kerr, the liberal and often-visionary president of the university who became a target of scorn from Savio and the student left as well as from Reagan, Hoover and the right. One of the subtexts of this masterfully researched book is Rosenfeld’s yearslong struggle to gain access to the relevant FBI documents, a fight that reveals the extent to which the FBI knew how explosive and embarrassing this story could be to the government. In an appendix, the author details that struggle, which “resulted in the release of the most extensive record of FBI activities concerning a university during J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure, and the most complete release of bureau records on Ronald Reagan.”
A potent reminder of the explosiveness of 1960s politics and how far elements of the government were (and perhaps still are) willing to go to undermine civil liberties.
A hilarious collection of strange-but-true tales of encounters between the rich and famous.
BBC Radio Host, Daily Mail columnist and all-around English wit Brown (The Lost Diaries, 2010, etc.) delivers a fine and funny assortment of oddball celebrity meetings and matchups. Some are well-known, such as when a drug-addled Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon, or Marilyn Monroe snuggled up to visiting Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. At least one is historically important: when Prince Felix Youssoupoff lured Grigori Rasputin to his death. Most, however, are delightfully inconsequential, whether it’s Harpo Marx driving Sergei Rachmaninoff bonkers with his harp playing, Sarah Miles sharing tea with a thigh-squeezing nonagenarian named Bertrand Russell, or Leonard Cohen having a quickie with Janis Joplin (and getting a song out of it). Some encounters go off without a hitch, such as between mutual admirers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. Others slightly misfire; Groucho Marx tries to impress dinner companion T.S. Eliot by quoting The Waste Land, only to find the poet “was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them.” At least they talked, which is barely more than can be said for James Joyce and Marcel Proust. There are also plenty of bad dates, whether it’s Madonna snatching off Michael Jackson’s glasses and sailing them across the room, Isadora Duncan tempting Auguste Rodin with her perfect young body, or Allen Ginsberg making an awkward pass at Francis Bacon.
Brown is as smart as he is puckish, and there are plenty of laughs on this terrific trip through modern fame.
Every living organism possesses a memory, however primitive, but Homo sapiens carried it to a dazzling level, writes technology journalist Malone (The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You, 2009, etc.) in this ingenious, richly complex account of how humans exchange, record, preserve and manipulate information.
All creatures, early hominids included, lived in the present and kept their memories to themselves. This changed less than 100,000 years ago when modern humans developed consciousness, allowing us to see ourselves as individuals and life as a continuum. Speech evolved simultaneously, giving us the ability to share this new avalanche of experiences and memories. Our ancestors developed amazing techniques for remembering vast quantities of information, but writing worked better, so Malone provides lots of information about clay tablets, papyrus, parchment and, ultimately, the best, paper (because it’s the cheapest). Memories in the brain appear instantly, if surprisingly inaccurately. Once written, making use of information requires additional writing (indexes), institutions (libraries) and even more writing (dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals). Memory preservation had been a visual process for 5,000 years until Thomas Edison added a second sense with the phonograph. The 20th century saw a quantum leap as computers recorded and retrieved information 1 billion times faster, leading to what Malone suggests is a universal brain with memories available to everyone: the Internet. The author stresses that while microprocessors get the headlines, it was relentless improvement and shrinkage of computer memory that permitted these phenomenal advances.
An original, fascinating scientific history of how human memory and a series of inventions have driven the advance of civilization.
An examination of the all-encompassing role that the atmosphere plays in shaping our lives.
Arborist Logan weaves together history, philosophy and culture in the third volume of his trilogy. As in his earlier works—Dirt (1995) and Oak (2005)—he celebrates the union of the inorganic and organic realms that nurture life: “The air cannot be owned. It cannot be controlled…It changes the fate of creatures and the destiny of peoples.” The author explains that his purpose is to make us aware of how remarkable the role of the atmosphere is in the evolution of life on Earth and in every aspect of daily existence. Too often we take it for granted, he writes, except when problems arise. In our focus on air quality and global warming, we tend to forget that it is the medium in which spores, fungi, airborne bacteria and pollens circulate—along with soot and other pollutants. Logan provides a biting critique of the failure of government officials to be honest with the population of New York City about the dangerous level of pollution following 9/11, when he was able to accurately measure the air quality as he worked to save trees in the area. He explains how global patterns of air circulation are responsible for cyclones and describes the problem faced by weather forecasters because of the famous butterfly effect: how “the smallest unobserved change could make the difference between a sunny day and a massive storm.” Logan celebrates the atmosphere as a medium of communication—transmitting pheromones as well as sound, bird calls, music—and notes that the breath of life separates the living from the dead.
A tour-de-force journey through the natural world.
Brilliant lectures on the American masters from the late, legendary acting teacher.
The indomitable Stella Adler (1901–1992), who tutored Marlon Brando, displays both her omnivorous intellect and decades of experience in this generous second volume of acting-class lectures (following Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov, 1999) edited by celebrity biographer Paris (Garbo, 2002, etc.). Here, the teacher covers Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Clifford Odets, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee. Adler knew the play, she knew the writer, and her message to her actors was direct: You must understand the play and the playwright at both the macro and micro level. You can’t do O’Neill if you don’t know about his tormented Irish-Catholic background; you can’t perform A Streetcar Named Desire or Death of a Salesman if you don’t know about postwar alienation. “If you don’t use the play’s world, you are not an actor, because the play is taken from that world, not yours, and you have to go there to find it.” Also, you must know the character’s inner and outer life: “Does he have an accent? How does he dress, how does he wear his hair?...What are the circumstances he lives in?” In Beyond the Horizon, Robert is weak, but don’t play him weak; he thinks he is strong. In Mourning Becomes Electra, play Christine like a queen; “use your epic voice, not a little intimate voice.” In The Glass Menagerie, Laura wears a leg brace; when she sits on the floor with her gentleman caller, she’s in pain. Read between the lines; follow what’s said and what isn’t. Adler has another, subtler message for her actors: Stay true to your art.
An exciting, inspiring and essential book for anyone interested in American theater.
NPR contributor Fine (Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living, 2008, etc.) reports on his year spent in Northern California researching the hazy world of medical marijuana.
As the epicenter of the sustainable cannabis-growing industry in America, Mendocino County serves as the starting point for the story. Fine’s intention was to track one cloned female cannabis plant, later named Lucille, from the farmer who tended her to the first patient who inhaled her smoke. Along the way, the author explores the intertwined history of humans and cannabis, as well as potential future benefits of cannabis, including biofuel, textiles, foodstuffs, farming and substantial economic boosts for cash-strapped communities. In 2006, Fine writes, the medical cannabis crop contributed $100 million in “sales tax to California’s general fund.” The author peoples the narrative with a colorful cast, including Sheriff Tom Allman, who touts the departmental and countywide benefits of the cannabis industry in Mendocino; a ganjapreneur and member of the National Cannabis Industry Association who hopes medicinal cannabis will one day be branded in a manner similar to fine Napa Valley wine; and an indoor grower turned outdoor cannabis farmer who simply wants to pay his taxes while providing high-quality organic medicine to his patients. Fine also examines how the American people have borne the massive economic and social expenditures of the failed Drug War, which is “as unconscionably wrong for America as segregation and DDT.”
A captivating, solidly documented work rendered with wit and humor.
A winner of just about every major literary award exercises his considerable critical chops, ruminating on the worksof poets, photographers, writers and other artists.
Hass (English/Univ. of California, Berkeley; The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems, 2010, etc.) brings formidable gifts and experience to the art of criticism. He speaks with greatest authority about poets and poetry, as evidenced by his pieces about literary celebrities like Wallace Stevens, Allen Ginsberg, Robinson Jeffers, Czeslaw Milosz (whose works Hass has helped translate) and others. Hass also introduces Western readers to the Korean poet Ko Un and to Slovene and Chinese poets. In one section, he celebrates the work of California writers Jack London, Mary Austin and Maxine Hong Kingston. He also dives into the complexities of the Gospel of John, wrestles with the relationship between poetry and spirituality, highly praises the Border Trilogy of Cormac McCarthy (“a miracle in prose,” he calls The Crossing) and offers a swift, sensitive history of blacks’ servitude in the sugar, tobacco, cotton and rice fields. He ends with the text of a speech he delivered at Berkeley in 2009 about the controversy at that school over the removal of a grove of oaks to accommodate the athletic facilities. For that piece, Hass walked the ground, explored natural history and read stories about the founding of the university—in other words, he did his homework. Characteristic of all of these pieces, of course, is Hass’ great erudition (even bibliophiles may feel as if they’ve not read very much) but also a surpassing generosity of spirit, a determination to understand other writers and artists rather than to judge them.
Not for all readers, but prime in its class—literate, learned and wise criticism, with scarcely a breath of cynicism or disdain.
The award-winning author of Death at an Early Age (1967) tells the stories of the later lives of poor children who grew up in the Bronx.
Kozol (Letters to a Young Teacher, 2007, etc.) has worked with children in inner-city schools for 50 years. In this engaging, illuminating, often moving book, he recounts the lives of poor black and Latino children—many now close friends—who once lived in Manhattan’s Martinique Hotel and were relocated in the late 1980s, upon the closing of that crowded and filthy shelter, to Mott Haven, a poor Bronx neighborhood. As the children grew into young adulthood, Kozol kept in touch with them and their families through visits, emails and phone calls. In a series of intimate portraits, he describes the astonishing odds the children faced and how many managed, with the critical help of mentors and caring others, to achieve successful lives, both in the conventional sense of graduating from college, but above all, by becoming kind and loving human beings. There is Leonardo, recruited by a New England boarding school, where he emerged as a leader; the introspective Jeremy, who befriended a Puerto Rican poet, got through college and took a job at a Mott Haven church that is central to the lives of many; and the buoyant, winning Pineapple, whose Guatemalan parents provide the emotional security of a warm home. “I’m going to give a good life to my children,” says Lisette, 24, after her troubled brother’s suicide. “I have to do it. I’m the one who made it through.” Some children are still struggling to find their way, writes the author, but they do so with “the earnestness and elemental kindness” that he first saw in them years ago.
Published to coincide with what would have been her 100th birthday, this biography of the iconic Julia Child (1912–2004) does full justice to its complex subject.
Spitz (The Saucier's Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe, 2008, etc.) describes the “irrepressible reality” of Child, who became a TV superstar, effectively launching “public television into the spotlight, big-time.” In his view, the 1961 publication of her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, came at just the right time. Americans were tired of the preceding “era of dreary button-down conformity,” and they were ready for a gastronomic revolution. Frustrated housewives reading Betty Friedan's groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique welcomed the larger-than-life personality and showmanship of this tall, outspoken woman as she demonstrated the intricacies of French recipes with what appeared to be blithe disregard when things went wrong. Child reveled in her celebrity status, but this was only one aspect of her complex personality. Like most women of her generation born in traditional upper-middle-class homes, she was not expected to have an independent career. A wartime stint in the OSS was liberating. Not only did she hold a highly responsible job, but she met and married career diplomat Paul Child, moving with him to France. Popular accounts of her life, including the book and film Julie and Julia, describe her enchantment with French haute cuisine and her determination to master the skills of a top chef. Spitz captures another side of her complex personality: her fierce diligence in mastering the science as well as the art of cooking through detailed experimentation and her concern to translate the preparation of complex French recipes for readers in America—an attention to detail that carried over to her TV programs.
An engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.