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Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave: Observations, Rants, and Other Uplifting Thoughts About Life

Jill Kargman. Ballantine, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-399-59457-1

Kargman has written a comedic, lively take on her life as an opinionated, Jewish native New Yorker. The married mother of three created her own TV show, Bravo’s Odd Mom Out, after years as a novelist. Kargman grew up in a joyfully morbid household that she likens to The Addams Family; her former sister-in-law Drew Barrymore remarks that her in-laws start talking about death at the dinner table after an average of only 17 minutes. Kargman’s sense of humor comes from her father, a wannabe stand-up comedian. From an early age he encourages his kids to “suck the marrow out of everything” and create amazing memories. And when she does something she’s not interested in doing, such as going to Disney World (which she finds so miserable she calls it “Misney World”) and encountering hotel decor so awful that she and her husband shut down their usual hotel sex, her dissection is sharp and funny. Kargman’s tone is beyond breezy (she uses words such as skeltorious and hagitosis maximus), and she devotes chapters to lists on subjects such as what keeps her up at night and things not to be trusted. Those looking for a new, fun voice that doesn’t get too heavy will enjoy Kargman’s perspective, which is rich with gratitude, laughs, and a healthy appreciation for the color black. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Treyf: My Quest for Identity in a Forbidden World

Elissa Altman. NAL, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-425-27781-2

Washington Post columnist Altman (Poor Man’s Feast) writes about Jewish food and family in Queens, N.Y., and how the former, with its goulashes and kreplach, sustains and anchors her while the latter leaves her in a state of panic and bewilderment. Her decades-long struggle to regain the happiness and comfort she felt in her beloved maternal grandmother’s home is depicted lovingly, with many moments of heartbreak and disappointment but also joy and contentment. Her childhood and adolescence are rife with disapproval and contradictions, such as bacon breakfasts before Sunday visits to her Orthodox paternal grandparents. Her grandmother tries to feed her brains; her grandfather is a rage-filled cantor whose family perished in the Holocaust. There’s also tremendous conflict between Altman’s father, an adman who adores cooking and food, and her mother, an aspiring singer and actor who starves herself and is relegated to performing for neighbors. The preoccupation with treyf (something that’s prohibited and unkosher) is a constant, such as how her grandmother describes the women Altman’s father dated before marrying, and the Spam he cooks that her mother tosses, emphatically declaring, “We’re Jews.” Pork, shellfish, and everything forbidden are endlessly present in their conspicuous absence. There’s also unease for Altman as she keeps the secret that she’s attracted to women. When she’s in her 30s, she sheds an image that never belonged to her and marries a Catholic woman. Altman’s path to living authentically is hard won, but she demonstrates there’s reward to be found in the fight. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Moscow Nights: The Van Cliburn Story; How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War

Nigel Cliff. Harper, $28.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-233316-2

Cliff brilliantly weaves together the politics, personalities, and pianism surrounding the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. This portrait of a Cold War moment focuses on two remarkable people. The first is Van Cliburn, the courtly, eager 23-year-old from Kilgore, Tex., who combined a winning American openness with a heartfelt love of Russian music. The second is Nikita Khrushchev, an eccentric peasants’ son who survived Stalin and went on to undo the worst of his oppressions. Riding high on the success of Sputnik and Soviet nuclear advances, Khrushchev saw the proposed music competition as a way to assert the U.S.S.R.’s cultural preeminence. The program was heavily weighted to Russian music, and many potential competitors felt that a foreigner would not be allowed to win. But Cliburn’s mother and teachers had instilled in him a love of Russian repertoire that Moscow audiences grasped from round one. Khrushchev railed against Stalin’s cult of personality but did not stand in the way of Cliburn’s. This is a well-researched, fascinating look at a special relationship between Van Cliburn and the U.S.S.R. that lasted through low points (the downed U-2, the Cuban missile crisis) and high ones, all the way up to the 1987 summit that resulted in eliminating most of the world’s strategic nuclear arsenal. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The South in Color: A Visual Journal

William Ferris. Univ. of North Carolina, $35 (120p) ISBN 978-1-4696-2968-1

Photographer and scholar Ferris (The Storied South) takes a folkloric look at the New South in the 1960s and 1970s through color photographs that capture the soulful character of a community and the ambition of a young, curious photographer who’s using his camera to better understand the people and place he calls home. He divides the photos into five sections, beginning with warm, exuberant photos of life on the farm where he grew up in Vicsburg, Miss. The next photos explore the larger Mississippi region, with sections on portraits, buildings, handmade color, and roads. The book reveals Ferris’s natural and direct eye, with each section growing in narrative power and scope that “unleashes their visual voice and allows them to achieve a sense of motion and story.” Lyrical and sensitive, the photos reveal a dichotomy between tradition and change, rich and poor, black and white, tracking race relations in the South. Color photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods

Mark Havens, essays by Joseph Giovannini and Jamer Hunt. Booth-Clibborn (Abrams, dist.), $55 (224p) ISBN 978-1-86154-378-3

Ten years in the making, this photo collection by Havens showcases the motels of Wildwood, a barrier island at the tip of southern New Jersey, whose main adversary is not the rising sea but changing taste as the tony traditionalism of its oceanfront neighbors continues to sweep away the middle-class modernism that is its great but undervalued trademark. This lonely East Coast enclave of the futurist style known locally as “Doo Wop” and more broadly as Googie has attracted increased preservation attention over the last few decades. The island is a Jetsons-like case of forward-looking design rendered cheaply, with such vulgar materials as Flagcrete and Astroturf wielded with great imagination. The photos offer details large and small: not simply obvious icons such as neon signs but close shots of roof and window composition, and studious attention to the often socializing-oriented courtyard or pool-focused motel designs. The book is in some sense a catalogue of kitsch, but with much of its subject imperiled, it serves as a call for preservation as well. Color photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir

Tara Clancy. Crown, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-101-90311-7

Clancy’s debut, an intimate coming-of-age chronicle, captures the circumstances of her multi-class upbringing as the neighborhood “rat” of the Broad Channel section of Queens, N.Y.; a part-time member of “the Geriatrics of 251st Street”; and a weekender at the upscale seaside community of Bridgehampton. The reader navigates through this lighthearted memoir with the help of a sharp-tongued, hip-hop-loving sneaker enthusiast whose relentless attempts at disrupting the tranquility of nearly every situation make up the bulk of the antics covered in the book’s 21-year sprawl. The rest come from an eclectic cast of friends and family that include Grandma Rosalie Riccobono, an Italian-American matriarch whose colorful curses serve as her everyday punctuation; Rosemary, a self-described “rebellious, alcoholic, soon-to-be-heroin-addict, giant butch built of tough Rockaway Irish stock”; and the regulars at Gregory’s Bar and Restaurant, the nautical-themed neighborhood watering hole. Set against the grunge and rap backdrop of the late 1980s and early ’90s Queens, the heart of Clancy’s thoroughly enjoyable narrative lies in her examination of life in the spaces between social classes, and the threads of humanity shared equally by the local pothead high schoolers, antique-collecting Hamptons businessmen, and the Irish-American cops of New York City. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology

Thomas Dolby. Flatiron, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-07184-2

In his engaging memoir, British New Wave icon Dolby retraces his journey from London stock clerk to pop star to unlikely success as a Silicon Valley pioneer. A tech savant, Dolby ditched school at 16 and tried for a career in punk-rock London. In short order, he was cowriting, playing, and producing for groups such as Whodini, Prefab Sprout, and Foreigner. He then became a celebrity when “She Blinded Me with Science” flew up the charts in the U.S. Disillusioned with the music business after the commercial failures of his following albums, Dolby turned to an odd new phenomenon known as the Internet and relocated to the Bay Area. Intuition informed him that consumers wanted more than bleeps and blats on their cell phones, and after a decade-long struggle piloting a startup, he hit the jackpot with his RetroFolio ringtone software. Soon afterward, he returned to England and composing. Dolby’s style—understated but acute—and wealth of anecdotes make for an enjoyable narrative, even if he soft-pedals the ambition and talent that drove his success. His winding career crosses the paths of a celebrity ensemble—including Eddie Van Halen, Bill Gates, David Bowie, and George Clinton—under very odd circumstances, including close encounters of the disturbing kind with Michael Jackson. To those who know Dolby only from his 1980s bug-eyed mad-scientist persona, his punk roots and windsurfing chops will come as shock, but the bespectacled Brit is more Renaissance man than one-hit wonder. Agents: Merrilee Heifetz and Lisa DiMona, Writers House. (Oct.)

This review has been edited to reflect the correct agent information for the book.

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Champions: Four Men, Two Teams, and the Breaking of Pro Football’s Color Line

Gretchen Atwood. Bloomsbury, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-62040-600-7

Focusing on the 1946 Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams, sports journalist Atwood provides snapshots of the pro football game from the days of the old-T and the single-wing offense up to 1950, by which time most NFL teams ran a version of the modern-T offense. Before the early 1930s, many ranked professional football on the same level as pro-wrestling. But in 1946, a string of events challenged segregation. The NFL team Cleveland Rams relocated to Los Angeles and, through some coaxing, signed former UCLA Bruins players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode. At nearly the same time, the Cleveland Browns of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC) signed Bill Willis and Marion Motley. Off the field, both cities had racial roadblocks for their citizens. Los Angeles County had seen a significant increase in antiblack restrictive housing covenants from 1920 up to 1946; in Cleveland, an interracial group launched a protest at Euclid Beach Park over the exclusionary policies that prevented black residents from using public facilities. That same summer, the nation saw a spike in lynching, including a quadruple lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge, Ga. Though these events mostly occurred independently and were spread throughout the country, Atwood succeeds in laying them out like a modern-day pro offense, powering the book’s narrative with the march to the 1950 NFL championship between the two teams that integrated professional football. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

Jennifer Weiner. Atria, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4767-2340-2

In this generous, entertaining memoir, novelist Weiner (Who Do You Love), known for her plus-size heroines, authentic voice, and hilarious one-liners, offers her fans and others a front-row seat to the drama of her life. Born to bookish Jewish parents (her father a physician, mother a part-time teacher), Weiner reads at the age of four and publishes her first poem in a children’s magazine at eight. Precocious, gifted, and overweight, she struggles through a suburban New England childhood and adolescence, followed by college at Princeton, where she is told she’s too heavy for crew team but gleans invaluable writing advice from such professors as Joyce Carol Oates and John McPhee. (Writers will be particularly interested in this section, and in the tale of her first published novel, Good in Bed, and its six-figure advance.) Her “fairy dust” story is not without heartache, however; weight issues plague her social life, her beloved but destructive father abandons the family (leaving her late-blooming lesbian mother to raise four kids); and after marriage and motherhood, she eventually weathers divorce and miscarriage. Still, Weiner doggedly pursues her dream of becoming a writer who speaks to women’s lives, insisting—and proving—that women’s stories matter, and not just those of the slim and beautiful. The book includes previously published essays, parenting tips, and funny Twitter feeds. Like her enormously popular commercial fiction, from its very first page this memoir will enthusiastically reach out to female readers and swiftly draw them close. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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They’re Playing Our Song: A Memoir

Carole Bayer Sager. Simon & Schuster, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5011-5326-6

Sager’s daily scene was something most only dream about: celebrity parties and red carpets, decked-out studios, and trips cross-country to create the perfect song. Carole Bayer Sager, known in her circle as “the woman with many names,” is a prolific songwriter who’s been sought after for decades. In this memoir, its title taken from the Broadway musical that Neil Simon based on her life in the early 1980s with composer Marvin Hamlisch, Sager tenderly illustrates an insider’s account of life behind the music. She has hundreds of hits to her credit, including “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “That’s What Friends Are For,” and, more recently, “The Prayer”; her songs are treasured the world over. She recalls her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor and notes that Michael Jackson often called on her to ease his nerves. After Hamlisch, Sager spent a decade of her life, love, and talent with the once-unstoppable composer Burt Bacharach and for the last 20 years has shared her life with studio giant Bob Daly. Underscoring the glitz of her circle are a rich songwriting vocabulary, an emotional well, and an endless need to create. As a girlfriend and wife, she didn’t feel she measured up; as a woman, she rarely felt beautiful or thin enough; as a mom, she felt she could be doing more; but as a songwriter, she’s always had everything needed to create magical works of music. Sager’s writing is comfortably conversational, and her stories are lovingly told. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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