A bloated, rambling, but often piquant portrait of a misfiring micromogul.




The struggles of an independent record label illuminate an obscure, seedy corner of Canadian country music in the 1970s in this sprawling show-business biography.

Ryerson follows “Big Jim” Allison through his colorful but not exactly inspiring career as a guitarist and band leader in Brant County, Ontario’s country-music scene, and the owner of Thunderbird Recordings during its brief existence from 1975 to 1979. His is largely a saga of failure: Although a few records that he produced charted in Canada, his biggest moneymaker was a municipal song celebrating the city of Brantford, Ontario’s centennial, and the label steadily lost money and acts until it folded due to debt. It wasn’t a noble failure, either, with Thunderbird displaying typical recording-industry frauds, writ small. Allison exploited artists by overcharging them for productions and lying about royalties, and he faked recording dates to thwart a copyright lawsuit. Ryerson’s portrayal of Allison is less as a villain than as a sad sack, though: He was willing to prey on smaller fish, but he was unable to profit from it because he lacked the instincts of a music-biz shark. In the end, with his label defunct and his wife dying of diabetes, he’s a figure of pathos. Ryerson (Return to Castle Lake, 2013, etc.) embellishes facts with imagined scenes to keep things “interesting,” but with only intermittent success. His writing often bogs down in the minutiae of gigs and recording sessions, and after Big Jim himself drops out, the narrative drags on with biographical sketches and chronicles of numerous others connected with Thunderbird, formatted in snippets that read like an entertainment calendar (such as “On May 31st 1980 Ramblin’ Fever played at Roger Quick’s 3rd Jamboree in the Stix at Thedford Arena”). But amid the thickets of factoids there are entertaining scenes of working-class country musicians in sleazy bars, drinking, vomiting, and urinating on stage; of the 630-pound Allison accidentally crushing a Chihuahua by sitting on it; and of him crashing through stage floorboards. Country fans will find these atmospheric vignettes to be a hoot.

A bloated, rambling, but often piquant portrait of a misfiring micromogul.

Pub Date: July 1, 2017


Page Count: 437

Publisher: Mouton Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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