An illuminating portrait of an artist lost in the mists of history and mystery.

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Robert Johnson's nonagenarian stepsister shows sides of him that few have seen.

Part of the aura of Johnson’s eminence atop the blues world has been the mystery surrounding him. Much of his public presence has been established through a single photograph and some 29 recorded songs, which were cheaply recorded and weren’t widely distributed until decades after his death (also shrouded in mystery). Adding to that aura was the legend that he had come to his blues mastery by selling his soul to the devil down at the “Crossroads”—the title of the song that would become much better known as performed by Eric Clapton. If the Johnson of myth and legend is somewhat bare-boned, this memoir, co-authored by Lauterbach, adds flesh and blood. Anderson was only 12 when the older stepbrother she knew as “Brother Robert” died, but her memory remains vivid and detailed. The bluesman she knew was no unschooled primitive but rather a crowd-pleasing showman who could mimic country favorites such as Gene Autry and Jimmie Rodgers. As Anderson recalls, "In addition to yodeling, [he] had other talents. He could play with both hands" and "could play spoons, too." The first part of the memoir recalls the brother she knew that others didn’t while the second part details “how my family lost Brother Robert again,” as exploiters took advantage of the family’s photos and memories and turned Johnson into a popular commodity without sharing more than scraps with the family. The genealogy is occasionally confusing, and the late appearance of an unacknowledged son complicates the legal claim, but this memoir represents a valiant attempt to set the record straight and give Johnson's family their due. One of Kirkus and Rolling Stone’s Best Music Books of 2020.

An illuminating portrait of an artist lost in the mists of history and mystery. (photos)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-306-84526-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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