Nonfiction, December 7, 2018 | Xpress Reviews

Briccetti cares deeply for this beautiful wreck of a world; for fans of 1980s music curious about some of the biggest songs of the decade; an engrossing way to learn about Indian cinema; of special interest to musicologists and performers; by an author simply obsessed with the writer’s craft; its best audience are the “X-Files”-obsessed; an engaging collection for those familiar with Marías; crucial issues about a significant aspect of the mass incarceration problem

Week ending December 7, 2018

redstarBriccetti, Lee. Blue Guide. Four Way. Mar. 2018. 106p. ISBN 9781935536963. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Poets House director Briccetti (Day Mark) creates a guidebook for living and surviving in this (often) treacherous and broken world. Once, Blue Guides were travel handbooks based on art and architecture. Briccetti’s version is part map and part travelog as she moves between past and present and explores ancient Rome and contemporary America. She suggests, “Shall we invent the human world again?” Readers will find themselves at Heart Mountain, where thousands of Japanese Americans were detained during World War II: an exclusion zone. Another exclusion zone: Chambers Street, New York City, and the ruins of the World Trade Center. Briccetti’s language is sometimes halting, yet it vibrates with a kind of brilliance: an “aphasia of lupine,” “Main Streets like sunken faces with bad teeth,” “Oh, cunning wreck liquid rock the throat.”
VERDICT For a wide range of readers; it is clear that Briccetti cares deeply for this beautiful wreck of a world.—Karla Huston, Appleton, WI

Beviglia, Jim. Playing Back the 80s: A Decade of Unstoppable Hits. Rowman & Littlefield. Nov. 2018. 232p. index. ISBN 9781538116395. $37; ebk. ISBN 9781538116401. MUSIC
Looking for a recent Billy Vera & the Beaters quote? It’s here! Do you want to know where Gregory Abbott came up with the lyrics for “Shake You Down”? Read this book, an absorbing exploration of 1980s hits. Beviglia, a contributor to American Songwriter magazine and the author of four list-based titles in the publisher’s “Counting Down” series, explains that he selected well-known tunes for which he had “fresh interviews” with the artists (or the songwriters or musicians who worked with them). As a result, he admits, many genres, including rap and hair metal, get short shrift, and the singers and bands skew mostly white and male. But overall, this is a fun and informative offering; readers may want to seek out music videos online as they read about Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” and Eddie Money’s “Shakin’.”
VERDICT For fans of 1980s music curious about some of the biggest songs of the decade.—Todd Spires, Bradley Univ. Lib., Peoria, IL

Dasgupta, Rohit K. & Sangeeta Datta. 100 Essential Indian Films. Rowman & Littlefield. Dec. 2018. 288p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442277984. $50; ebk. ISBN 9781442277991. FILM
Presenting a mix of commercial hits, flops, and cinematic masterpieces, Dasgupta (global communications & development, Loughborough Univ.;Digital Queer Cultures in India) and filmmaker Datta ( Tagore: At Home in the World) make it clear this compilation of 100 Indian films isn’t a best-of list; rather, these selections are important to Indian cinema for many different reasons. The authors deem My Brother...Nikhil “groundbreaking” for its portrayal of a gay man with HIV/AIDS and note that Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane “marks the debut of a strong woman filmmaker.” Other films include Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (the first film in the “Apu” trilogy), Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! Each entry covers basic information (year of release, director, cast) and a short, engaging essay with a synopsis, historical background, and critical context. Further reading lists that follow some entries will intrigue researchers and film fans alike; photos accent the text throughout.
VERDICT Academic libraries will want to make this resource available for students of film and Indian culture, while public libraries should display it near the DVD section to spark interest. An engrossing way to learn about Indian cinema.—Barbara Kundanis, Longmont P.L., CO

Davidian, Teresa. Experiencing Debussy: A Listener’s Companion. Rowman & Littlefield. (Listener’s Companion). Dec. 2018. 126p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442271456. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781442271463. MUSIC
To paraphrase editor Gregg Akkerman, the “Listener’s Companion” series is designed to help readers analyze music from a variety of genres and creators (previous books have covered Alice Cooper, Bessie Smith, and Giuseppe Verdi). Here, Davidian (music, Tarleton State Univ.; Tonal Counterpoint for the 21st-Century Musician) examines the work of Claude Debussy (1862–1918), offering biographical information and exploring the French composer’s place in music history. Debussy is widely considered one of the first “impressionist” composers, and there is much to be discovered in his music. Selected listening and reading lists aid in further study. Though Davidian mentions musical theory, nonmusicians won’t be put off, as the author makes what could have been a dry, academic topic engaging.
VERDICT This is, of course, of special interest to musicologists and performers, but it will also appeal to classical listeners.—Virginia Johnson, John Curtis P.L., Hanover, MA

redstarGass, William H. The William H. Gass Reader. Knopf. Nov. 2018. 928p. ISBN 9781101874745. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781101874752. LIT
Before his passing in 2017, American novelist Gass (emeritus, philosophy, Washington Univ., St. Louis; Eyes; Middle C) selected works from his rich bibliography of criticism, short stories, novellas, and full-length novels to be included in this “Reader.” On the surface, his choices represent a successful history and a career spanning more than four decades, but the process by which he arrives at such choices is a literary act in itself. Reflecting on works from Plato, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Henry James, and many others, Gass believed “art is the lie that tells the truth.” This would explain why he groups his writings here as “Fiction,” “Artists,” and “Theory,” shuffling the associations between one piece of writing and another. For example, the essay “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction” opens with, “So much of philosophy is fiction.” These factors more brilliantly portray the inner workings of Gass’s experimental mind—one engaged until the very end.
VERDICT For readers comfortable with being uncomfortable by an author simply obsessed with the writer’s craft.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Georgetown Univ. Libs., Washington, DC

Handlen, Zack & Todd VanDerWerff (text) & Patrick Leger (illus.). Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files. Abrams. Oct. 2018. 512p. notes. ISBN 9781419732478. $30. TV
Freelance writer Handlen and VanDerWerff, critic at large for Fox, rework content originally posted on the A.V. Club in this comprehensive examination of The X-Files, revisiting all 11 seasons and both feature films. Although the writers (who tag-team the episodes) bring a fan’s enthusiasm, as critics they adeptly analyze how well an episode works as an installment of the franchise and detail the roles of the writers, directors, and actors. Each chapter is introduced by ominous black-and-white artwork that depicts a scene from that season. The authors pay special attention to the show’s tortuous mythology and allow that eventually it grows impossible to unravel the web of alien and government conspiracies. Indeed, entries in the latter half are better written than the episodes they cover (a footnote in the review of the seventh-season finale even encourages readers to keep plowing through the essays). Handlen and VanDerWerff present an intelligent and accessible critique of a classic sf series. Devotees may disagree with some of their assertions (such as their defense of character John Doggett), but the volume will spur exactly the kind of debate that fans enjoy.
VERDICT While the book might appeal somewhat to general TV lovers, it will find its best audience with the X-Files-obsessed.—Terry Bosky, Madison, WI

Marías, Javier. Between Eternities: And Other Writings. Vintage. Sept. 2018. 272p. ed. by Alexis Grohmann. tr. from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. ISBN 9781101972113. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101972106. LIT
Spanish author Marías, whose reputation is more pronounced in Europe, is perhaps most widely acclaimed for Your Face Tomorrow (2002–07), a trilogy of espionage and intrigue and among the author’s dozen novels translated into English. Most of the essays in this collection, published between 1988 and 201l, first appeared in a Sunday supplement to the Spanish newspaper El Paìs. Such commitment to deadline might generally compromise quality, relevance, and interest. Consequently, a buckshot of these pieces are meager and superficial, including Marías’s discourses on his dreams, fear of flying, a new address book, promotional photos, and use of a typewriter, as well as several pieces of literary scope. Alternatively, there is the panache, insight, and emotional engagement of reflections on Venice (“Venice, an Interior”), Barcelona (“The Most Conceited of Cities”), and Lampedusa (“Hating The Leopard”), along with writings on film, such as “The Hero’s Dreadful Fate” (on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence) and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”
VERDICT An engaging collection for those already familiar with Marías; new readers should first consider Written Lives, an earlier collection of perceptive and amusing observations on European and American writers.—Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal

Mauer, Marc & Ashley Nellis. The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences. New Pr. Dec. 2018. 224p. notes. ISBN 9781620974094. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781620974100. CRIME
Mauer (The Sentencing ProjectRace To Incarcerate) and Nellis (The Sentencing ProjectA Return to Justice) present original research, statistics, and study findings, along with international comparisons, supportive of reforms in life sentencing. While crime rates have declined in the United States for more than two decades, research suggests that harsher sentencing has not had a large role in this outcome. In fact, excessive use of life sentencing is shown to have diminishing returns on crime deterrence and an inflationary effect on sentences for lesser offenses. Chapters cover the causes and effects of the increased use of life sentencing including the importance of punitive government policies and legislation, the interplay between the declining use of the death penalty and tougher sentences, and racial disparities in life sentencing. Short profiles of “transformed lifers” personalize the narrative. The authors recommend a 20-year cap on all sentences, with provisions for public safety concerns. Incremental changes suited to the current political climate are outlined. While the book’s wealth of information makes it useful for activists, its readable style should also engage civic-minded general readers. This is especially timely considering the criminal justice reform bill, the “First Act Bill,” currently making its way through Congress.
VERDICT Visionary yet realistic, this authoritative work raises crucial issues about a significant aspect of the mass incarceration problem.—Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

LJ Reviews

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