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Vibrant commentary on art and society by a writer with a sharp eye for the offbeat.

A stellar collection of essays and reviews from the award-winning London-based writer.

Laing, the winner of the 2018 Windham-Campbell Prize for nonfiction, is often described as a cultural critic, but insofar as the term suggests a sole focus on the arts, it belies the wider sweep of these pieces, most of them previously published. A graceful stylist and superb reporter, the author is a journalist in the spirit of Michael Dirda, who calls himself “an appreciator” rather than a critic, and Laing includes no negative reviews here. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of first-rate arts criticism in her appreciations of painters like David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat and novelists Patricia Highsmith and Sally Rooney along with musings on topics like gardening and a standout essay on the surrealistic horrors faced by an asylum-seeking refugee who spent 11 years “trapped in Britain’s infinite detention system.” Laing’s aesthetic tastes lean toward idiosyncratic or transgressive work that involves links between art and disaster, whether a crisis imperils the human body or the body politic. Disease and death stalk her pages—Kathy Acker’s breast cancer, Freddie Mercury’s AIDS, Georgia O’Keeffe’s agoraphobia, and Hilary Mantel’s migraines—but she brings a fresh and humane eye even to ills exhaustively covered elsewhere, such as David Bowie’s cocaine addiction. Afflicted with corneal edema, the painter Sargy Mann “took a hair dryer to the National Gallery, plugged it in and calmly dried his soggy, waterlogged eye in order to see the paintings.” Laing sinks only briefly into lit-crit jargon in discussions of “reparative reading,” and sometimes her enthusiasms run away with her. Were the 700 or so poems by Frank O’Hara truly “as original and lovely as anything of the century”? Still, the author’s praise never appears less than genuine or unsupported by deep observation, and she consistently shows the talent James Wood ascribed to Mantel: She has “the maddeningly unteachable gift of being interesting.”

Vibrant commentary on art and society by a writer with a sharp eye for the offbeat.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00570-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

A revealing biography of the fabled Manhattan hotel, in which generations of artists and writers found a haven.

Turn-of-the century New York did not lack either hotels or apartment buildings, writes Tippins (February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America, 2005). But the Chelsea Hotel, from its very inception, was different. Architect Philip Hubert intended the elegantly designed Chelsea Association Building to reflect the utopian ideals of Charles Fourier, offering every amenity conducive to cooperative living: public spaces and gardens, a dining room, artists’ studios, and 80 apartments suitable for an economically diverse population of single workers, young couples, small families and wealthy residents who otherwise might choose to live in a private brownstone. Hubert especially wanted to attract creative types and made sure the building’s walls were extra thick so that each apartment was quiet enough for concentration. William Dean Howells, Edgar Lee Masters and artist John Sloan were early residents. Their friends (Mark Twain, for one) greeted one another in eight-foot-wide hallways intended for conversations. In its early years, the Chelsea quickly became legendary. By the 1930s, though, financial straits resulted in a “down-at-heel, bohemian atmosphere.” Later, with hard-drinking residents like Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan, the ambience could be raucous. Arthur Miller scorned his free-wheeling, drug-taking, boozy neighbors, admitting, though, that the “great advantage” to living there “was that no one gave a damn what anyone else chose to do sexually.” No one passed judgment on creativity, either. But the art was not what made the Chelsea famous; its residents did. Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, Phil Ochs and Sid Vicious are only a few of the figures populating this entertaining book.

A zesty, energetic history, not only of a building, but of more than a century of American culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-72634-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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