Als’ work is so much more than simply writing about being black or gay or smart. It’s about being human.

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WHITE GIRLS

Meditations, appraisals, fictions and personal inquiries about sex, race, art and more from the longtime New Yorker staff writer and cultural critic.

In the Kirkus review of Als’ (The Women, 1996, etc.) first book, we praised the author for his “ability to combine extreme honesty with sharp critical discourse, his willingness to explore the shadows of complex lives, including his own, that challenge clichés about race and gender without ever sacrificing intellectual rigor.” His follow-up collection is less cohesive but proves to be equally daring and nearly as experimental as his audacious debut. Gathering his diverse subjects under the umbrella term “white girls,” which he applies equally to Malcolm X, Truman Capote and Flannery O'Connor, Als assembles something of a greatest hits of his own strengths, which are considerable. His longer essays are the most personal; “Tristes Tropiques,” an elegant recollection of friends and lovers in the age of AIDS, opens the book. Naturally, observations on culture rise to the top as well. “White Noise,” about rap icon Eminem, and “Michael,” about the elusive pop star, offer pointed insights into American culture’s obsession with image. Readers who only know Als’ work from his insightful magazine essays may be startled by his diversions from form here. When Als summarized his feelings on Gone with the Wind in the New Yorker in 2011, he was delicate. The essay with the same title here comments on a photography exhibition, asking, “So what can I tell you about a bunch of unfortunate niggers stupid enough to get caught and hanged in America, or am I supposed to say lynched?” Leapfrogging from straightforward journalism to fiction written in other personas, the author demonstrates a practiced combination of cultural perception, keen self-awareness and principled self-assurance.

Als’ work is so much more than simply writing about being black or gay or smart. It’s about being human.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-936365-81-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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