Worth it for the informative first half, but not the comprehensive assessment that Waits’s artistry deserves.

LOWSIDE OF THE ROAD

A LIFE OF TOM WAITS

The bard of musical lowlife receives a sometimes ill-tempered biography.

British music journalist Hoskyns has long been an astute chronicler of Los Angeles rock; Hotel California (2006) briefly surveyed Waits’s early work in the context of the ’70s L.A. singer-songwriter scene. Here the author takes an expansive unauthorized look at Waits’s life and career. Hoskyns offers a well-delineated picture of the artist’s formative years in the Southern California towns of Whittier and San Diego, where his infatuation with Beat literature and old-school pop and jazz led to what the author calls “round-the-clock performance art”—the formulation of the musician’s anachronistic, finger-popping, prematurely grizzled stage persona. Hoskyns is at his best in amply reported chapters recalling Waits’s first flush of fame in Los Angeles as a gutter-crawling, melody-spinning boho poet. Witnesses include his producer Bones Howe and several intimates at the West Hollywood Troubadour club—though not, regrettably, early flame Rickie Lee Jones. The book grows less rewarding after Waits’s wife and creative partner Kathleen Brennan enters the picture. Hoskyns plainly lacks any abiding interest in the more experimental, cacophonous recordings that commenced in 1983 with Swordfishtrombones. The latter part of his account, which leans heavily on secondary sources, devolves into wearying, infrequently edifying laundry lists of album tracks, theatrical projects (mostly with Robert Wilson) and movie roles. The writer also encountered difficulty in enlisting cooperation from friends and musical associates of the privacy-loving Waits, and he loudly grinds his axe by including an appendix of several e-mails declining his interview requests. By the end, Hoskyns’s tone has turned peevish, and his admiration for Waits’s oddly beautiful, envelope-pushing music is eclipsed by his journalistic frustration.

Worth it for the informative first half, but not the comprehensive assessment that Waits’s artistry deserves.

Pub Date: April 14, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7679-2708-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

more