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New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in Daylight

Jenni Quilter. Rizzoli, $75 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8478-3786-1

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Assembling text, visual art, and their interstices, this sumptuous volume documents the collaborative playfield where the New York School poets and painters thrived. With occasional critical text to guide readers along, the majority of this image-heavy treat goes to ephemera and rarely seen work. Frank O'Hara's poem "Why I am Not a Painter," for instance, mirrors Mike Goldberg's painting Sardines, which is referenced in the verse. Elsewhere, poet Ted Berrigan interviews artist John Cage, abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell creates a drawing with a James Schuyler poem on it, and Jasper Johns's In Memory of My Feelings—Frank O'Hara is paired with a letter in which the poet recommends new books to the painter. The art and poems are kept company by photographs of their creators, collaborating and partying, as well as literary magazine covers, notebook entries, postcards, and similar miscellanea. The New York School, although nebulously defined, is characterized by this collaborative spirit across art forms. Quilter renders this tendency as a lively practice rather than a historical fact, while loosening the edges enough to track the scene into the 1980s. Although often studied, the school is rarely given such intimate, collective attention, and even figures as familiar as Willem de Kooning and John Ashbery become dynamic and surprising once more in this volume's smart handling. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better

Maya Schenwar. Berrett-Koehler, $18.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-62656-269-1

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The American prison system, with by far the largest number of incarcerated men and women in the world (fully 25% of the world's prison population), also impacts millions of Americans with loved ones behind bars. Schenwar, editor-in-chief of social justice–oriented news site Truthout, is one of these, having a sister whose drug dependency finally led to her incarceration in a central Illinois prison. Schenwar's thoughtful analysis of a deeply flawed system centers on this personal experience, augmented by dozens of interviews with inmates and their family members across the country. Arguing that mass incarceration only serves to mask deep-seated issues like homelessness, unemployment, inequality, and insufficient social services, Schenwar first describes how families are fractured by incarceration, with communities of color and little affluence disproportionately affected. In the book's second part, she visits various community-based social justice projects, such as a Chicago high school's "peace room," aimed at interrupting the "school-to-prison pipeline." Especially timely in the wake of California's passage of Proposition 47, which rolls back the draconian "three strikes" policy, this thoughtful discussion offers alternatives to incarceration rooted precisely in the familial and social ties otherwise undermined when loved ones disappear behind bars. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

Matthew Avery Sutton. Belknap, $35 (456p) ISBN 978-0-674-04836-2

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Drawing deeply on letters, newspaper articles, and other archival materials, Sutton, a history professor at Washington State University, challenges the now-accepted accounts of Christian fundamentalism that attribute its rise to conflicts with evolution and modernist theories of biblical interpretation. Rather, he argues in this elegant, judicious, and thoughtful new history, apocalypticism—or the belief in an imminent end of the world—shaped the development of fundamentalism and sustained it through generations, from the late nineteenth-century to the present day. Thus, he contends, the anticipated end-of-the-world provided an interpretation of natural disasters, geopolitical changes, and war. "Fundamentalism, therefore, is best defined as radical apocalyptic evangelicalism," Sutton writes. He deftly weaves this idea through political events from the New Deal through the Cold War and into fundamentalist response to 9/11, and he illustrates the singular power of individuals ranging from Charles Fuller and Billy Sunday to Billy Graham and Hal Lindsey to influence fundamentalist Christians to political action. Sutton's engaging book belongs next to classic texts on the subject, among them Ernest Sandeen's The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930, and Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sex After Service: A Guide for Military Service Members, Veterans, and the People Who Love Them

Drew A. Helmer. Rowman and Littlefield, $30 (150p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3056-9

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Helmer, director of the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center, here examines the problems with sexual health often experienced by members and veterans of the armed forces due to residual trauma and injury. As he states in the introduction, the subject merits discussion precisely because it is so "often dismissed as unimportant and stigmatized in mainstream health care settings." Opening with basic introductions to the relevant medical terminology and features of military culture, the book addresses such topics as common adverse effects suffered by service members, which range from chemical exposure to PTSD, and the impact of aging on the sex drive. Helmer also discusses how belonging to the military shapes an individual's sense of self and communication style. At the back, he lists agencies and organizations that can provide further resources, including for homosexual and bisexual people, though transgender-related issues remain a notable omission throughout. Nonetheless, for both couples and caregivers, this book can provide a valuable starting point for long-term sexual health and wellness. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Letter to Jimmy

Alain Mabanckou. Counterpoint/Soft Skull, $15 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-59376-601-6

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Originally written on the 20th anniversary of James Baldwin's death in 1987, this book by Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine) addresses Baldwin in the second person. Much of the first half recounts Baldwin's biographic details, illuminating the pre–Civil Rights Movement Harlem in which Baldwin was raised or the sense of artistic and personal liberation he would find in France. Precisely because of the use of the second person, the format of the prose can feel a bit stilted; Mabanckou is ostensibly telling Baldwin about his own life: "During your childhood, you have countless opportunities to witness the extent to which your father distrusts the white man, whoever he may be…." Once the rhythm of the text becomes more established, however, Mabanckou displays more clarity on the cultural and political context that Baldwin both represented and contrasted. Eventually, as Mabanckou explores correlations between Baldwin's ideas and the contemporary world, the book really comes into its own. For instance, Mabanckou questions whether some of the "Rwandan genocide" literature echoes Uncle Tom's Cabin: "If we are not careful, an African author will be able to do nothing but await the next disaster…." One of the most influential and fearless writers of the 20th century, Baldwin deserves this celebration of his life, so that readers may encounter, in a new light, the fortitude of this true revolutionary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress But Surrendered the White House

Thomas F. Schaller. Yale, $32.50 (368p) ISBN 978-0-300-17203-4

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Political scientist and Baltimore Sun columnist Schaller (Whistling Past Dixie) charts the factionalism and internal schisms of the Republican Party in an astute and engaging manner, from the disappearance of moderate and liberals to the rise of a "xenophobic fringe" that consistently wins congressional races but alienates the electorate in presidential contests. While the topic of the modern GOP's rightward drift is nothing new, Schaller's explains the complex political history with plenty of nuance but largely without academic jargon. He persuasively argues that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, architect of the 1994 "Contract With America, had a "more lasting impact on the party than any other Republican, including Ronald Reagan" by making loathing of government a core principle. Schaller also lays out a case that simple majority control of the House of Representatives gives the Republicans enough power to govern, if sometimes only as "the party of no," without being forced to confront shifting national demographics in which a predominantly white male vote is no longer sufficient. Schaller's solution for the party's long-term survival—embracing effective state governors as less extreme candidates—is not novel, but he shows that if it does not happen, the GOP will weaken further still. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Nuns of Sant'Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal

Hubert Wolf, trans. from the German by Ruth Martin. Knopf, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-385-35190-4

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This sordid tale of sexual indecency, false saints, and murder within a 19th-century convent in Rome has all the trappings of a good thriller. What begins with a 1859 complaint by a German noblewoman against Sant'Ambrogio (specifically, against the corrupt practices of novice mistress Maria Luisa) soon becomes a full-blown scandal: the subsequent investigation implicates prominent clergy in practices that blur the line between mysticism and the carnality. Behind the lurid story, however, are deeper historical conflicts. Both the rise of Romanticism—and its attendant fascination with the supernatural—and struggles over the direction of the modern Church explain the extent of the scandal and the passion with it was investigated. Wolf (Pope and Devil), a professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Münster, adds detailed historical context and careful explanations to elevate this tale beyond sensationalism into a more serious study of a fascinating real-life melodrama. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold

Mark Schultz, with David Thomas. Dutton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0525-9550-30

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In this disturbing, heartfelt memoir, the life of champion wrestler Schultz plays out against the backdrop of his brother's murder in 1996 at the hands of John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family. An Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, Schultz drives himself relentlessly toward success, following the example of his older brother, Dave, who is also a gold medalist and world champion. As the brothers struggle after college, they are drawn to Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania by du Pont's promises of financial support and state-of-the-art training facilities. Once there, they find themselves making excuses for the eccentric behavior of the multi-millionaire who writes their paychecks. While the murder casts shadows throughout the book, Schultz's focus remains very much on his dogged rise to wrestling fame. Schultz is honest about his obsessive, insecure nature and the profound sacrifices necessary to be great in a brutal sport. The book is timed to publish with Sony's release of the movie Foxcatcher, which is based on the event, not on Schultz's memoir. Schultz writes about his constant interactions with Dave—their shared apartments, his brother's marriage and children—yet his brother's life largely takes place offstage. That said, the relationship between Schultz and his more easy-going, older brother is vividly portrayed as one of sibling rivalry and real love. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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