Photographic archaeology turns up long-hidden secrets and interesting meditations on the unexplored corners of life.



Novelist and memoirist Mazza examines an archive of family photos to reconstruct the lives of kinfolk, real and surmised.

It turns out, with respect to the title, that it is a puzzle: You never know what mysteries lie behind a seemingly innocent image. Mazza’s family was photo-happy, and she had the task, after her mother died, of scanning “her many thousands of color slides beginning in 1950, taken before she went back to snapshots in 1982, and to digital in 2005.” The work helped her to wrestle with grief over the deaths of her mother and a beloved dog but also to shelter herself in 2018 from “the looming end of democracy, apparently as hopelessly chaotic as the collapse of my beloved dog’s body.” The author unearths numerous thought-provoking questions: What to make of her father’s Leica-snapped photos in occupied Germany at the end of World War II? Why did only seven slides survive from a storied family trip to Maine? To the latter, Mazza ventures an entirely sensible answer: “Sometimes 35mm film didn’t engage in the camera’s sprockets when loaded, so it wouldn’t advance when wound after each shot.” The author makes fruitful pop-culture connections between the events of her life and whatever was happening on TV. If she didn’t necessarily wish that “my camp-counselor, swimming-coach, girl-scout-leader Mom was more like June Cleaver,” she finds plenty of semiotic meaning in the adventures of the Beaver and his cohort. Mazza also delivers a few shocks—e.g., finding a photo of her mother in blackface. She shows how the racism of yore survived in her own time (“for all the long-haired blue-jeaned activists of all races and genders, there were enough tie-and-blazer white boys born into a prep-school privilege that maintained their version of meritocracy”), underscoring the idea that life is complex and messy.

Photographic archaeology turns up long-hidden secrets and interesting meditations on the unexplored corners of life.

Pub Date: March 15, 2023

ISBN: 9781956005653

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2023

Did you like this book?

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller


A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

Did you like this book?

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.


The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

Did you like this book?