Nonfiction: Feminism, the 1960s, Road Trips, Masculinity, the Romanovs, April Ryan, Facebook | Xpress Reviews

This blend of history and travel will interest all seeking a better understanding of Palestinian life; a full-scale, flowing journey through the 1960s; this stylish guide to road trips is full of encouragement and enthusiasm; exploring the relationship between masculinity and violence; a grown-up approach to a preteen food fad; recommend for anyone with an interest in Russian history, particularly during the time of empire; an intriguing insight into the challenges of reporting on Trump; a raw perspective on the inner workings of a women’s jail; ideal for readers who live in the world of social media

Week ending June 29, 2018

 

Bond, Dorian. Me and Mr Welles: Travelling Europe with a Hollywood Legend. History Pr. Sept. 2018. 224p. photos. ISBN 9780750985864. pap. $16.95. FILM

In 1968–69, Bond was a young film student who served as a kind of personal assistant to Orson Welles (1915–85) while the filmmaker was working on numerous projects throughout Europe. In this curious and frustrating memoir, Bond shares some entertaining anecdotes and is usually deferential to his subject, but a continually mean-spirited, critical view of many side characters makes this a hard book to enjoy or recommend. It’s filled with extensive, highly detailed conversations presented as direct quotes from Welles, with their credibility attributed to the author’s “increasingly accurate memory and the copious notes” he supposedly recorded. Many of his facts are incorrect, however, and as one pivotal conversation is a fairly direct quote from Welles’s final film performance in the 1980s, it calls the entire project into question. Bond also makes several comments about the “more pedestrian” concepts of Welles’s later years, yet as the author shares little information about his own credentials, his criticisms feel pretentious.

Verdict While acknowledging this is a memoir and not a proper biography of Welles, the inaccuracies and questionable content render this book unworthy of recommendation. Even Welles completists may want to steer clear.—Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA

 

Chesler, Phyllis. A Politically Incorrect Feminist: Creating a Movement with Bitches, Lunatics, Dykes, Prodigies, Warriors, and Wonder Women. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781250094421. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250094438. SOC SCI

In her latest work, Chesler (The Death of Feminism) does her best to establish her centrality to the second-wave feminist movement. The book is mostly a memoir and one written with the desire to expose the human side of other women in the movement, most frequently in ways far more flattering to Chesler than to her colleagues. Chesler dismantles concepts of sisterhood and draws attention to inconsistencies, in-fighting, and “mean girl” behavior that impacted her relationships with, for example, Andrea Dworkin, Kate Millet, and Gloria Steinem. Chesler addresses some of the same theoretical tensions in feminism that Susan Gubar explores in True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories out of School (2011). Where Gubar writes with grace and critical acumen, Chesler displays a sense of entitlement and privilege, often setting herself apart from women and using arguments that challenge the value of what and how other women worked for social, political, and academic change. Chesler’s descriptions of her sexual relationships, her experiences of academic sexism, her depictions of feminist misogyny and its impact on a movement rooted in ideas of solidarity, and her discussions of sexual assault and abortion provide valuable contexts for feminist theory along with useful parallels for more recent issues.

Verdict Rarely does the book move far enough from the autobiographical to serve as a new way of thinking about feminist theory in and as practice. Professors might choose this as supplementary reading for upper division feminist theory classes.—Emily Bowles, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

Di Cintio, Marcello. Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Life in Contemporary Palestine. Counterpoint. Sept. 2018. 272p. maps. ISBN 9781640090811. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781640090828. HIST/INT AFFAIRS

By visiting and interviewing Palestinian writers and their friends and associates and exposing examples of their writing, Canadian author (Walls: Travels Along the Barricades) and journalist (Canadian Geographic; the New York Times) Di Cintio attempts to present a more complex and human view of the experience of a range of Palestinians than is shown in news reports labeling people as militants, fighters, and terrorists. Di Cintio largely succeeds by letting the poets, fiction writers, and librarians tell their own stories. The author makes no pretense of being even-handed in dealing with the conflicting narratives of Israeli and Palestinian experiences of what one calls the creation of the State of Israel and the other calls the Nakba or “catastrophe.” Those catastrophic events permeate the poetry and fiction of generations of Palestinian writers. Perhaps the best part of this book for understanding Palestinians as human beings is the “Reading List” of dozens of English-translated works by writers mentioned here along with how to access them.

Verdict This blend of history and travel will interest all seeking a better understanding of Palestinian life.—Joel Neuberg, Santa Rosa Junior Coll. Lib., CA

 

Gaillard, Frye. A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, Our Decade of Hope, Possibility, and Innocence Lost. New South. Aug. 2018. 700p. notes. index. ISBN 9781588383440. $39.95. HIST

Gaillard (writer in residence, Univ. of South Alabama; Watermelon Wine) gives a chronological retelling of the triumphs and tragedies of the 1960s. As a history, A Hard Rain is exhaustive, recounting not only well-known events such as the Kennedy assassinations and the March on Washington but also dozens of less publicized incidents that spoke to the national mood. He shows how Frank Rizzo’s hard line approach to policing African Americans in Philadelphia echoed Bull Connor and Jim Clark in the South. He follows Martin Luther King Jr. to Chicago, where he faced critics of his nonviolent approach as well as his media savvy. Writing a history interspersed with memoir, Gaillard is skilled at showing how disparate actions became national movements in the pre-Internet era, even if, at times, the accounts lack a critical angle. Presented by Gaillard, Elvis Presley “was happy to follow in the footsteps of blacks,” which, while factually accurate, glosses over the darker topic of cultural appropriation and theft. He writes that in opposing the Brown v. Board of Education ruling from a small government perspective, Barry Goldwater was giving “philosophical cover to a racism he didn’t share,” ignoring how “big government” opposition and racism were often intertwined. Overall, Gaillard excels at weaving his own experiences of the decade without distracting from the overall narrative, and his research brings long forgotten events to the fore.

Verdict A full-scale, flowing journey through the decade, even if it sometimes dons rose-colored glasses.—Bart Everts, Rutgers Univ.–Camden Lib., NJ

 

Jacobs, Jen CK. Road Trips: A Guide to Travel, Adventure, and Choosing Your Own Path. Roost. May 2018. 192p. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781611802030. pap. $18.95. TRAV

Photographer Jacobs is an experienced road tripper—alone, with friends, with her husband, and as a family with their six kids in tow. Here she shares practical details for planning (figuring out a route, packing, choosing music) and recording the details of the journey. She covers basic concepts of photography, such as composition and light, and different methods of journaling. For the latter, she interviews artists with varying styles of recording their travel experiences, including illustrator Lisa Congdon and cookbook author and photographer Heidi Swanson. She shares specifics of trips she’s taken (to the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, around Iceland with a group of friends) and provides a useful list of resources for both planning and services you might need on the go.

Verdict This stylish guide to road trips is full of encouragement, enthusiasm, and practical tips. Recommended for public libraries.—Stephanie Klose, Library Journal

McBee, Thomas Page. Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man. Scribner. Aug. 2018. 224p. ISBN 9781501168741. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781501168765. MEMOIR/SOC SCI

Although the climax of this memoir is a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden, the subtitle reveals more about the core of the book: What does it take to be a man? How does one negotiate masculinity? While most of the story relates to the training involved in becoming a boxer, McBee’s (Man Alive) point is a larger one as he reflects on the emotional trauma that goes along with watching his mother die and later how to meet women. The appeal of Amateur is not the story, though it is riveting. Rather, it is the honesty with which McBee relates the tale that gives it a special charm because he is a compelling narrator. A heartfelt glimpse of a trans person’s life, with a very dramatic boxing match bringing into focus the gender binary.

Verdict In particular, the relationship between masculinity and violence is explored in a way that most readers will be able to relate to and gain new perspectives.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia

Odell, Kat. Unicorn Food: Beautiful, Vibrant, Plant-Based Recipes To Nurture Your Inner Magical Beast. Workman. Aug. 2018. 192p. photos. ISBN 9781523502134. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781523503964. COOKING

Multihued, supersweet unicorn food hit social media last year in a storm of tweets and posts. All treats were fair game for the food-colored, sprinkle-topped do-overs. While the rainbow cupcakes and pink/purple parfaits were fine for a birthday party or two, what if you were genuinely concerned about the refined flour and sugar, not to mention the totally unnatural colors the food trend required? Eating a rainbow can be good nutrition, says food writer Odell (Day Drinking). Here, she reworks the unicorn look into a (mostly) vegan and gluten-free spectrum of sweet and savory breakfasts, main courses, and lots of snacks. Ingredients such as bee pollen, pearl powder, and tocos (derived from brown rice bran) join other such common nutritional stars as tahini, nuts, and chia seeds in the “unicorn pantry.” Colors come from traditional natural sources: beets, purple cabbage, and turmeric. Ingredients range from the readily available lentils to the more unfamiliar psyllium husks. Many recipes require a nearby natural or health food store, while some ingredients may only be available online.

Verdict A grown-up approach to a preteen food fad that creates magic in a plant-based rainbow.—Jeanette McVeigh, Univ. of the Sciences, Philadelphia

Rappaport, Helen. The Race To Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans To Rescue the Russian Imperial Family. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2018. 464p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250151216. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250151230. HIST

Best-selling author Rappaport (The Romanov Sisters) unravels the complicated relationships across Europe on the eve of World War I. The tragic fate of the Romanovs is well known, and many have questioned why they were not saved by relatives who were in power in other countries. Rappaport explains the intricacies that prevented the rescue of the tsar and his family. A mixture of Hanover family politics and fear that the revolution in Russia would catch on across the continent contributed to the difficulties in freeing the Romanovs. Sadly, as happened with the Habsburgs and Marie Antoinette, the tsarina was often blamed for the faults and mistakes of her husband, making her an equal target for the rage of the revolutionaries. The author does an excellent job of explaining complicated family dynamics, particularly teasing out how each person is related. She also portrays the heartbreak after each near miss at averting the tragic murder of the family.

Verdict Recommend for anyone with an interest in Russian history, particularly during the time of empire. Rappaport’s latest will also interest those seeking more insight into the complex relationships among European monarchs pre–World War I.—Sonnet Ireland, St. Tammany Parish P.L., Mandeville, LA

Ryan, April. Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House. Rowman & Littlefield. Sept. 2018. 208p. index. ISBN 9781538113363. $24.95. BIOG

Ryan (American Urban Radio Network) here describes her experience as a White House correspondent in the Trump administration. A veteran of four presidential administrations, Ryan is shocked by the divisiveness of President Trump and has unexpectedly found herself to be the subject of several news items in the course of her reporting. She takes her job and the role of a free press seriously and uses the book to tell her side of these encounters and to defend her reputation as a journalist. Additionally, Ryan details issues affecting the black community such as health care, education, and immigration to emphasize further her responsibility to represent the interests of that constituency in her reporting. Her keen insight as a woman of color working for a minority network lends context to the questions on race that she asks during press briefings. Ryan’s personal life does occasionally enter the story, as with the lengthy discussion of her former friendship with Omarosa Manigault.

Verdict An intriguing insight into the challenges of reporting on Trump. Recommended for readers interested in journalism or politics.—Rebekah Kati, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Schwartz, Leslie. The Lost Chapters: Finding Recovery and Renewal One Book at a Time. Blue Rider: Penguin. Jul. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9780525534631. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525534648. MEMOIR

Author Schwartz (Jumping the Green; Angels Crest) debuts her first memoir, which uses literature to chronicle her 37-day stay in a county jail. After more than a year of relapse into alcohol and drugs, she is arrested for DUI and battery of an officer. She is sentenced to 90 days, 37 of which she serves, at Lynwood Women’s Jail in Los Angeles County. Schwartz vividly writes of her experience in captivity through the literature she reads during her incarceration, which includes Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being to understand the constant moving among prison cells and Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the surrealism she interpreted through García Márquez’s work came to be when she met a woman she had read about a year to the day earlier. She details the inhumane treatment of the inmates and the obvious systemic racial bias in sentencing. Deep relationships are built with her fellow prisoners, sharing commissary goods and writing poetry together; some continue after Schwartz is released.

Verdict Recommended for those who want a raw perspective on the inner workings of a women’s jail and the reconciliation that can happen after an addict’s relapse. [See Prepub Alert, 1/22/18.]—Meghan Dowell, Beloit Coll., WI

starred review starVaidhyanathan, Siva. Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Oxford Univ. Jun. 2018. 288p. notes. ISBN 9780190841164. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780190841188. SOC SCI

Vaidhyanathan (media studies, Univ. of Virginia; The Googlization of Everything) has written a structured response to the behemoth that is Facebook. He acknowledges all the rhetorically valid ways in which Facebook might offer emotionally fulfilling interactions (the author himself is a user), but he buttresses these emotive motivations with close readings of the filter bubble, monetization of all transactions on the platform, and even the inherent vice of “good” business. He lays out how the very nature of Facebook’s advertising structure—that anyone can place ads—and how the rhetoric that drives the platform’s ongoing work to fix itself after the 2016 election may themselves be problematic. Vaidhyanathan accomplishes this goal by smartly attaching deliberate meaning to each chapter, with titles such as “The Surveillance Machine” and “The Disinformation Machine.” His fantastic style using these heavy-sounding chapters are permeated by the light touches of how fun it is to use Facebook, how pleasant it is to see someone’s newest pet pictures, and the simplicity of following the news in one place. The result is an analytically satisfying work that’s aware of how real people use the popular platform.

Verdict Ideal for readers who live in the world of social media who want to put these platforms into context.—Jesse A. Lambertson, Georgetown Univ. Libs., Washington, DC  

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