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Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $24 (156p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9354-7

In the scant space of barely 160 pages, Atlantic national correspondent Coates (The Beautiful Struggle) has composed an immense, multifaceted work. This is a poet's book, revealing the sensibility of a writer to whom words—exact words—matter. Coates's bildungsroman shows the writer as a young man, in settings that include Baltimore's streets, Howard University's campus, and Paris's boulevards. It's also a journalist's book, not only because it speaks so forcefully to issues of grave interest today, but because of its close attention to fact. (The real-life killing of unarmed Howard student Prince Jones, in 2000, by an undercover police officer gradually becomes a motif, made particularly effective by the fact that Coates knew Jones, and his conversation with Jones's mother, which concludes the book.) Coates intimately presents the text as a letter to his son, both an expression of love and a cautionary tale about "police departments... endowed with the authority to destroy his body." As a meditation on race in America, haunted by the bodies of black men, women, and children, Coates's compelling, indeed stunning, work is rare in its power to make you want to slow down and read every word. This is a book that will be hailed as a classic of our time. Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins Loomis Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1960–2010

Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Norton/Liveright, $35 (552p) ISBN 978-1-63149-001-9

This compilation of a half-century’s worth of travel journals, most of them previously unpublished, constitutes a lively “on the road” chronicle for poet and City Lights Booksellers cofounder Ferlinghetti. Spanning 1960 to 2010, these “peripatetic pages,” as he calls them, capture their author criss-crossing America, traveling through Europe and Latin America, and, in one memorably bleak report, riding the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia in midwinter in 1967—and then riding it back to Moscow after being denied berth on a Japan-bound ship. Some of Ferlinghetti’s accounts, like those of his travels to Latin America in 1960, are little more than collages of photographic details of the land and its people. Others, like his “Mexican Night” journal from 1970, are freewheeling fantasias rife with ribald imagery. Two standout chronicles, of travels through postrevolutionary Cuba in 1960, before the Bay of Pigs invasion, and through Spain under the Franco regime in 1965, are examples of travel writing at its best, filled with sympathetic and enlightening portraits of people and countries whose reality frequently contrasts with depictions of them in the popular press. Ferlinghetti punctuates a number of journal accounts with poems and beautiful poetic imagery, such as his description of dunes on the beach in Mexico “as if the mountains had allowed the wind to come through and make these shadows of themselves out of sand.” Illustrated with many of his hand-drawn sketches, these journals illuminate the inspirations for some of Ferlinghetti’s best poems and are a major addition to his literary legacy. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Perpetual Paycheck: 5 Secrets to Getting a Job, Keeping a Job, and Earning Income for Life in the Loyalty-Free Workplace

Lori B. Rassas. CreateSpace, $18.99 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-5087-9352-6

With a culture of at-will employment having replaced one of 40 years of faithful service and a gold watch at the end, employment attorney, career coach, and negotiator Rassas selects five “secrets” to help readers find and keep jobs. “There has never been a better time to be an employee or a job hunter,” she claims, which is a cheerful sentiment, if not substantiated by any facts. Rassas urges readers to get used to the idea of their jobs as temporary relationships, and not to expect to like them very much. She goes on to cover boss/employee relationships, mistakes in job-seeking, avoiding the axe, what to do when one is passed over for an internal candidate, and effective networking. It’s an interesting take, given the glut of books urging readers to go the entrepreneurial route and remove the threat of job loss altogether. The problem, however, is that the professed “secrets” can be found in any “Top Five Rules for Job-Seekers” listsicle, and the slim, filler-packed presentation is less than convincing. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Elgin Baylor: The Man Who Changed Basketball

Bijan C. Bayne. Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4422-4570-9

Elgin Baylor, one of the premier superstars in the NBA, gets his first biography courtesy of Bayne, a Washington, D.C., sportswriter, who makes the case for considering Hall of Famer Baylor among the most elite players with his signature gravity-defying “hesitation” jump shot. Born in 1934 in segregated D.C., Baylor didn’t play basketball until high school, quickly gaining notice on the Phelps Vocational High School team. When the High Court struck down integration in 1954, Baylor transferred to another school, where a press notice called him “literally unstoppable,” before joining teams at the College of Idaho and Seattle University, scoring big points and media attraction. During the 1958 NBA draft, Baylor was selected first overall and signed with the Minnesota Lakers, only to face Jim Crow laws when it came to hotels; the Lakers sat out a game in hopes of influencing team owners to create a nondiscrimination policy. Bayne writes expertly of Baylor’s golden era with the newly relocated Los Angeles Lakers, his team-up with sharpshooter Jerry West, their rivalry with the Boston Celtics, his play in seven NBA finals and 11 All-Star games, and his decision to retire in 1971 due to bad knees. Bayne’s gracious biography of a media-savvy, high-profile ex-sportsman shows the man as much more than his patented spin moves and one-legged jumpers. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Learning to Eat Along the Way

Margaret Bendet. She Writes (IPS, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (230p) ISBN 978-1-63152-997-9

In this readable if myopic spiritual memoir, journalist Bendet describes her dissatisfaction with her busy job at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and what she comes to realize is a failing marriage. She begins taking yoga and meditating, which leads her to join the pack of followers of an unnamed swami. The resulting book is a tell-all without telling all, which leaves uninitiated readers with little to carry interest as Bendet travels from one place to another following the swami. Though the swami’s presence brings flashes of “love, bliss, brilliant shards of understanding, exquisite visions of a magical reality,” he never seems adequately described as a character. The narrative leans heavily on recounting Bendet’s time as an ascetic and anorexic, a condition that brings unwanted attention to her after a devotee at a different ashram dies of starvation; ultimately, however, she accepts help from her spiritual community to heal. At times Bendet displays flashes of good journalism and description, but overall her story leaves a bland aftertaste. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Born on the Bayou

Blaine Lourd. S&S/Gallery, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7385-8

First-time author Lourd, a Beverly Hills businessman, declares that his early life in New Iberia in the lowest part of Louisiana—“the heart of Cajun country”—is never far from his mind in this sensitive and funny memoir. Lourd’s story is dominated by the imposing figure of his father, Harvey “Puffer” Lourd, a truck driver who rode the oil boom of the 1970s in the South and made his family part of what Lourd calls “the idle middle-class-elite”—yearly new cars and country club memberships—until the oil price collapse of 1981 “devastated the South.” During his heyday, Puffer introduced his son to the deep roots of Cajun country life, which Lourd captures in detail: duck hunting, beer drinking, girl chasing, and a bittersweet adventure to Mexico. Though his father becomes a sad figure after the oil bust, Lourd effectively recalls the halcyon days of a man who proudly defined himself as a “coonass”—here used as an endearing term for a certain type of Cajun. Rich or poor, white-collar or blue-collar, “he’s generally unpretentious and comfortable with himself, listens to his gut, has horse sense, and, yes, tends to be indulgent.” Agent: Richard Morris, Janklow & Nesbit. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Tour of Bones: Facing Death and Looking for Life

Denise Inge. Continuum, $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4729-1307-4

This posthumously published travelogue-cum-memoir from theology scholar Inge (editor of Happiness and Holiness), who died in 2014, is a witty and poignant meditation on mortality. When Inge’s husband was appointed Bishop of Worcester Cathedral, the couple moved into the adjacent official residence, built atop a medieval Benedictine abbey’s charnel house. Intrigued, not disturbed, Inge undertook an investigation into the ancient practice of the “keeping of bones.” Her tour included four noted crypts: in Czermna, Poland, a mass grave from the Thirty Years’ War; in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, skull pyramids and an infamous bone chandelier; hand-painted skulls amid the glaciers in a cave in Hallstatt, Austria; and in Naters, Switzerland, a chapel featuring a beinhaus (bone house). This skillfully composed book deftly draws on archaeology, physiology, theology, folklore, and literary antecedents from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy in a County Courtyard” to Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death. Inge had nearly finished the book when she was diagnosed with cancer, and for the final chapter she delved deeply into beliefs about life and death. “No one likes to talk about death, almost no one knows how to,” she notes. The crypts and ossuaries that Inge visited, and the book she wrote about them, are intended as memento mori—reminders of mortality. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Robinson Jeffers: Poet and Prophet

James Karman. Stanford, $19.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8047-8963-9

Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962) arguably never achieved the stature of his contemporaries Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, or William Carlos Williams, but he forged his own poetic path all the same. Jeffers scholar Karman, in this straightforward expansion of his introduction to The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, recounts the poet’s life and work. Karman matter-of-factly chronicles Jeffers’s life from his childhood and education in Europe and his peripatetic college years to his adulterous affair with Una Kuster, whom he married in 1913 following her divorce from her first husband, after which the couple moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Karman also gives close readings of Jeffers’s poems, showing that their greatest theme was the relationship of Eros and Thanatos. While most of his contemporaries composed lyric poetry, Jeffers wrote narrative verse and drama, often recasting Greek tragedies such as Euripides’ Medea in modern settings. Karman’s analysis reveals a prophetic voice who often spoke of environmental destruction and overpopulation. While Jeffers warns that both religion and science are flawed, offering no salvation from human cruelty and inhumanity, he also shows that opening one’s heart and mind to the larger world of nature can offer moments of enlightenment. Although Karman’s colorless introduction lacks the vibrant energy of his subject’s work, it could very well lead a reader to pick up Jeffers’s poetry again or for the first time. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Pedigree

Patrick Modiano, trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti. Yale Univ., $25 (144p) ISBN 978-0-300-21533-5

Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for literature, recounts, in laconic, clear-eyed prose, his youth and coming of age in post-WWII Paris. Modiano, the son of a cold, hard actress mother and a shady black marketeer father, did not enjoy an idyllic childhood. His parents generally lived apart, while Modiano (whose one sibling, Rudy, died young) grew up in genteel poverty, bouncing from boarding school to boarding school in a haze of deprivation and discipline. Perhaps to compensate, he turned to literature, and he lists the books he was reading at various points—The Last of the Mohicans, The Jungle Book, Manon Lescaut, Diary of a Country Priest, and Wuthering Heights—as if these formed his character as much as if not more than his largely absent parents. The specter of the Holocaust and WWII hovers over the narrative, especially as Modiano’s father was Jewish and had been caught up in the turbulence of occupied Paris (readers of Modiano’s Dora Bruder will recognize several incidents from that narrative.) Modiano provides as many questions as explications in this slim but potent volume, as he grapples with the ghosts of the past and the events that shaped the man and writer he would become. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement that Saved a Beloved Business

Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker. Amacom, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8144-3665-3

Korschun, an assistant professor of marketing at Drexel University, and Welker, a reporter for the Lowell Sun, present the 2014 struggle for control of the Market Basket supermarket chain as an uplifting chronicle of company loyalty. As they show, the conflict not only spurred employees to action, but involved customers and suppliers as well. It centered on a clash of vision between two cousins, Arthur T. Demoulas and Arthur S. Demoulas, grandson and grandnephew, respectively, of Market Basket’s founder, Athanasios “Arthur” Demoulas. The former, despite a successful tenure as CEO, was abruptly ousted by the latter, who planned to sell out to a competitor’s holding company. The ensuing battle included rallies on Arthur T.’s behalf, led to barren store shelves, and eventually warranted the involvement of the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Alongside an in-depth account of these events, the authors paint a fascinating portrait of the company’s history from its 1917 inception and share thoughts on the lessons to be learned about reciprocated loyalty, communal purpose, and shareholder value. Inspiring and drama-filled, this rendition of the Market Basket story will captivate readers and reaffirm the belief that corporate success can be achieved by treating people fairly. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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