The down-and-dirty prose sounds a little affected coming from a guy who lives in Montclair, N.J., but there’s no doubting...



A New York Times editor mingles memoir with music criticism in his first book, which connects classic country songs with his relatives’ hardscrabble lives.

“Country music made between about 1950 and 1970 is a secret history of rural, working-class Americans,” writes Jennings. Among those folks were his parents, just teenagers when they married eight days before he was born in 1957; his mother’s mother, Lilla George, who went to school in dresses sewn from burlap potato bags; his father’s mother, Grammy Jennings, who after her husband abandoned her lived with three children in a tarpaper shack with no running water or electricity; and scads of other kinfolk who, like the protagonists of country numbers like Hank Williams’s “Ramblin’ Man” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” worked hard, drank hard, loved hard and had no illusions about a better future. The author belied their low expectations by getting an education, getting out of Kingston, N.H., and getting a white-collar job, but he still loves their music. In chapter after thematic chapter, he shows how his family’s world is captured in such great songs as “Sing Me Back Home” (Merle Haggard), “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (Loretta Lynn) and even pop crossovers like “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (Jeannie C. Riley). There’s a certain amount of romantic wallowing in blue-collar bad behavior, but for every trite description like that of Grammy Jennings (“all she ever wanted was an ice-cold beer in one hand and a red-hot man in the other”), there’s a bone-chillingly bare sentence like the one Jennings’s mother wrote to his teacher in fourth grade, the year he missed 73 out of 180 school days: “I kept Andy home from school to help me out around the house because I didn’t feel good.”

The down-and-dirty prose sounds a little affected coming from a guy who lives in Montclair, N.J., but there’s no doubting the sincerity of Jennings’s love for his kin and passion for country music.

Pub Date: June 3, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-86547-960-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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