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JOHN PRINE

IN SPITE OF HIMSELF

It’s difficult for Huffman to establish much stylistic continuity when he relies so heavily on quotes from other...

A guide to the troubadour’s career lacks access to the artist himself but benefits from a subject who is as intriguing as his songs.

In his first book, Greensboro News & Record staff writer Huffman proves an amiable companion as he leads readers though the musical development of an artist whose songwriting uniqueness has prevailed over a decided lack of ambition and decades of commercial indifference. If it weren’t for his close friend and fellow troubadour Steve Goodman, who “had enough ambition for both of them,” Prine might have been happy to remain the singing mailman from suburban Chicago. The author shows just how little Prine enjoyed the business side of the music business and how the strength of his songwriting offset raw indifference as a singer and guitarist in his early studio recordings. More than once he was willing to chuck his career for something different. He never believed the critical claims made by others on his behalf: “If I’m a genius, how come it took me five years to get out of high school?” he told an AP reporter in 1978. “If I’m a genius, how come I don’t have three Cadillacs?” It might have seemed that Prine was destined to be known primarily from the songs on his 1971 debut album—“Sam Stone,” “Hello in There,” “Angel from Montgomery”—with subsequent efforts doing little to raise his profile as he bounced from one record label to another. Yet he amazingly rebounded in 1991 with “The Missing Years,” his most popular album ever and a return to critical acclaim. By then, Prine had started his own label and found domestic bliss with his third wife, and he has subsequently survived a couple bouts with cancer. If he’s lost the inspiration to write songs, that doesn’t seem to bother him much.

It’s difficult for Huffman to establish much stylistic continuity when he relies so heavily on quotes from other journalists, but the unlikely success of the reluctant performer makes for fascinating reading.

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-292-74822-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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