Nonfiction: Sports Writing, China, Elizabeth Bishop, Obesity, Russia, Space Travel | Xpress Reviews

Ajayi calls to mind Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist; recommended for sports nuts; an in-depth look at power in China; for poetry lovers, writers, literature enthusiasts, and fans of Elizabeth Bishop; a new look at obesity; a reinvigorated review of Cold War events; witticisms, pictures, and graphics about astronomy

Week ending September 30, 2016


Ajayi, Luvvie. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. Holt. Sept. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781627796064. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781627796071. HUMOR
Aptly titled, this first book by blogger and pop culture critic Ajayi ( examines some of the major problems threatening America today. From bad manners (online and otherwise) to racism and violence, Ajayi doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Rather, she takes them head-on, giving the “side-eye” or “throwing shade” whenever it is required. Born in Nigeria but raised mostly in the United States, the author uniquely frames and looks at these issues from both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective, giving voice to points of view that are often underrepresented (or not represented at all) in mainstream media conversations. She challenges assumptions and, in doing so, offers a much more complete picture of America to consider. Though at times readers may feel themselves shirking from her judgmental gaze, Ajayi doesn’t hesitate to point the finger at herself as well, and she mostly succeeds at balancing criticism with wit and humor.
Verdict As a cultural observer, Ajayi calls to mind Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Although Gay is a more seasoned writer and meticulous researcher, Ajayi’s voice is just as compelling. [See Prepub Alert, 3/14/16.]—Meagan Lacy, Guttman Community Coll., CUNY

The Best American Sports Writing 2016. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2016. 416p. ed. by Rick Telander. ISBN 9780544617315. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544618466. SPORTS
The Best American Sports Writing 2016 is the latest installment in Glenn Stout’s 26-year run as editor of this series. As with past years, the book gathers about two dozen of the year’s best long-form sports pieces under the guidance of a guest editor. This year’s editor is columnist Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times, a prolific sportswriter whose own work has appeared frequently in past editions. As usual, the selections are entertaining and informative deep dives into the sports world that will appeal to fans of general nonfiction as well as aficionados. Each essay has the pace and narrative that is expected of well-crafted journalism and illuminates not only sport itself but the role it plays in the broader life of its participants. For the subjects of these stories, sports are a way to understand who they are as human beings, and for the writers, they are a lens that brings the true subjects into sharper focus.
Verdict Recommended for sports nuts looking for good, brief reads but also for fans of general nonfiction to whom sport may not have occurred as a topic for intellectual reading.—John Helling, Indianapolis P.L.


starred review starBrown, Kerry. CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping. I.B.Tauris. Jul. 2016. 288p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781784533229. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780857729613. POL SCI chinaceo093016
Xi Jinping is one of the world’s most powerful people and the strongest Chinese leader in decades. Brown (Chinese studies, King’s Coll. London; The New Emperors) chronicles Xi’s life and rise to power while examining the nature of power in contemporary China. Over the last couple of decades, party leaders have appeared to distance themselves from Mao and some of the social problems from the early years of the People’s Republic of China. President Xi, however, embraces both the Mao era and reform as the narrative leading to modern China. The party’s “achievement in creating the China the world sees today justifies the cost of epic social movements, famines and turmoil from 1949 to 1978. These were the years it was learning.” In this light, the author examines the strength of the president and, through efforts like the anticorruption campaign, his vision for the future of China.
Verdict This in-depth look at power in China and the new president will appeal to those interested in China or politics.—Casey Watters, Singapore Management Univ.


Cook, Eleanor. Elizabeth Bishop at Work. Harvard Univ. Aug. 2016. 320p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780674660175. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780674973145. LIT
In this literary analysis, Cook (English emerita, Univ. of Toronto; A Reader’s Guide to Wallace Stevens) provides insight into Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. While many of the poems are referenced and some excerpts are analyzed, this is not a collection of poems but instead an inside look into the work that was put into Bishop’s writing. Some tidbits about Bishop’s (1911–79) personal life are given such as relating to her sexuality, the death of her parents, and her love of travel, but mostly Cook writes about Bishop’s simplistic yet rich writing style. The author delves into the genres Bishop’s poems belong to while also providing exercises and writing prompts for the reader. There are illustrations throughout, including covers of Bishop’s collected works and posters that served as her inspiration. Cook also includes quotes from other authors and quotes on writing from Bishop herself. Readers who want a deeper understanding of the person behind the poems will enjoy Cook’s analysis, while readers looking to read Bishop should approach the poetry collections named throughout the book.
Verdict Poetry lovers, writers, literature enthusiasts, and, obviously, fans of Elizabeth Bishop will enjoy this book.—Natalie Browning, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond


Gibney, Mike. Ever Seen a Fat Fox? Human Obesity Explored. Dufour. Nov. 2016. 250p. notes. index. ISBN 9781910820087. pap. $31. HEALTH
The World Health Organization considers excess body weight one of its biggest public health challenges. Gibney (Something To Chew On) explores the struggle humans have with food and the probability of resulting obesity. He shows in stark, scientific detail how evidence-based information is not used well, if at all, especially where interpretation of research is concerned, e.g., the often misleading statements made by the media or food industry. Gibney is well positioned to argue this point, as he is a professor of food and health at the School of Agriculture & Food Science in Dublin, Ireland, and the former president of the Nutrition Society (UK). Written in lay language, his title covers topics such as the role played by genetics regarding obesity in the context of food choice (appetite, feeling full, visual cues), calorie intake vs. energy expended, and regulating food intake.
Verdict This is not a diet book per se, but throughout the well-balanced text the author does define some good-practice suggestions that he has gained from his research. There is an extensive reference list for each chapter, supporting the text, and a thorough index. This is aimed at the general public, with hopes that those interested in consumer health and those in policymaking roles will also take note.—Elizabeth J. Eastwood, Los Alamos Cty. Lib. Syst., NM


Sell, Louis. From Washington to Moscow: US–Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR. Duke Univ. Aug. 2016. 408p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780822361794. $99.95; ISBN 9780822361954. pap. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780822374008. POL SCI fromwashington093016
Sell (retired foreign service officer, U.S. Dept. of State; Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia) here writes, “Studying history is like reading a novel from back to front. We know the outcome before we begin. Living through history is different. The shape of the future is always uncertain and often turns out to be full of surprises.” He lived this tumultuous time bookended by the 1972 SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and 1993 START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). Recapitulating these 21 years of the Cold War by an active player reveals in new details how these events and personalities affect what we are witness to today in Russia. Sell uses personal interviews, KGB archives, and his own eyewitness accounts to inform a new generation of historians of the players in the Cold War—from the actions of U.S. presidents to the Soviet leaders after Nikita Khrushchev. He goes covers at great length how Mikhail Gorbachev’s missteps hastened the Soviet demise and aims to show how a confident Soviet Russia in 1972 crashed and burned in less than 20 years.
Verdict Sell’s reinvigorated review of Cold War events will refresh the memories of Russian/Soviet scholars and reinforce historical facts for a new generation of Russophiles.—Harry Willems, Great Bend P.L., KS


Tyson, Neil deGrasse. StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need To Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond. National Geographic. Sept. 2016. 304p. illus. ISBN 9781426217272. $30. SCI
Compiled by National Geographic staff with input from the StarTalk radio show and podcast host and astrophysicist Tyson (Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries), this vibrant offering aims to “bottle the show’s spirit and character.” The text’s graphics-rich layout and straightforward explanations of terrestrial and astronomical puzzles and wonders, interspersed with recipes for Tyson’s space-influenced drink mixes and snarky text box asides from comics (who regularly appear on the show), achieve the stated goal. One highlight of the scientifically accurate and readable narrative is the minibiographies of scientists scattered throughout. The trope of Tyson as “astro-x-ist” (e.g., “astro-steam-icist”) gets a bit tiring by the end of the book, as do some of the comedians’ sophomoric jokes, though, in truth the humorous approach does make the title accessible to a broader range of readers.
Verdict The witticisms, pictures, and graphics in this entertaining addition should entice readers interested in science from junior high on up. The glossy and colorful format will appeal to holiday gift givers and will promote scientific literacy in the recipients.—Sara R. Tompson, Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lib., Pasadena, CA

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