A grab bag, but a devil of a good one for the most part.

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DEVIL SENT THE RAIN

MUSIC AND WRITING IN DESPERATE AMERICA

Diverse work about roots and catastrophe by the gifted essayist and novelist.

This collection of short pieces by Piazza (City of Refuge, 2008, etc.) doesn’t entirely hang together, but still mirrors the versatile author’s many great strengths. The first of the three sections contains his writing about music, much of it drawn from his tenure as Southern Music columnist for the Oxford American. It is highlighted by his unforgettable, wildly colorful profile of the idiosyncratic bluegrass musician Jimmy Martin, published in book form as True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass (1999). Piazza also provides thoughtful considerations of prewar bluesman Charley Patton (one of whose songs supplies the tome’s title), country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers and pathfinding New Orleans jazzman Jelly Roll Morton; some smart (mostly commissioned) pieces about Bob Dylan; the Grammy-winning notes for a boxed set overview of the blues; and sensitive profiles of rockabilly great Carl Perkins and gospel singer Rev. Willie Morganfield, cousin of bluesman Muddy Waters. The second section is less focused and hence less satisfying. Piazza is a longtime New Orleans resident, and several of the pieces focus on his reactions to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which he dealt with at full length in both the novel City of Refuge and the nonfiction work Why New Orleans Matters (2005). Coruscating with outrage, these entries—which include an edited online chat from the Washington Post and an exchange of private letters—read like adjuncts to those books; the best of them weighs the disaster through the unlikely prism of several old Charlie Chan films. Also included are homages to Norman Mailer, Piazza’s friend and literary model, which sit uneasily next to the other chapters. A brief third section wraps the book with a meditation on the moral core (or lack thereof) of Gustave Flaubert’s fiction and a lovely report about shopping for 78s at a New Orleans flea market after the deluge.

A grab bag, but a devil of a good one for the most part.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200822-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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