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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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Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth

John Szwed. Viking, $28.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-670-01472-9

Unsatisfied with labeling Holiday "the greatest jazz singer of all time," veteran jazz biographer Szwed (Alan Lomax) attempts to deconstruct the entertainer and her vocal magic by puncturing her celebrated public image and her legendary performances. First, Szwed holds Holiday's 1956 provocative memoir, Lady Sings the Blues, to a harsh analytical light. He debunks claims that it trashed jazz and its artists and was written to support Holiday's drug habit, while disclosing the reality that the singer was broke and in tax trouble. He reveals some little-known facts, including that Holiday wanted children desperately and even tried to adopt a baby in Boston but was turned down because of her drug use. He also terms Lady Day's voice as "indelibly odd, and so easy to recognize but difficult to describe," and writes the performer had two different selves: rough, profane, caustic offstage, but witty, kind, and charming onstage. The book really takes off when Szwed gets into Holiday's peerless styling as an improviser and interpreter of torch songs and blues, including the classics "God Bless' the Child," "Don't Explain," and "My Man." Szwed provides an alternative to the gossip and scandal usually associated with Holiday with this highly entertaining, essential take on an truly American original. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Mojo: A Biography of Jim Morrison

Dylan Jones. Bloomsbury, $16 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-63286-244-0

In this fast-paced, irreverent biography, British GQ editor Jones grapples with the Lizard King, tracking back from his funeral bed at Père Lachaise to the Manhattan apartment of his partner, writer Patricia Kennealy (they were extralegally married in a Celtic ceremony). Morrison, the son of a high-ranking naval officer, rebelled against the confines of his peripatetic military household, escaping into romantic literature and substance abuse. After leaving UCLA's film school, he drifted into the bohemian undertow of Los Angeles, where a chance meeting with Ray Manzarek led to the formation of the Doors. Clad in skintight leather, Morrison appealed to teenyboppers as well as L.A.'s drug users, and quickly became an international sensation. Ambivalent about his fame but nonetheless enabled by it, Morrison descended into alcoholism and became a charter member of the "27 Club" by way of heroin overdose. Refreshingly, Jones doesn't cater to the exaggerations of the Morrison myth, and his wry analysis provides the lucid center of the book. However, readers looking for a thorough investigation of the moment that produced the Doors or deep insights into the troubled singer will be disappointed; Jones tends toward unsupported generalizations and relies on attitude to make his arguments. This is a fair and extremely readable account of a distant era when Lizard Kings walked the earth and prodigious justifications were provided for their bad behavior. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How to Be a Man: And Other Illusions

Duff McKagan. Da Capo, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-306-82387-9

Former Guns N' Roses bassist McKagan follows 2012's It's So Easy with a hybrid memoir/self-help book that addresses a pressing issue for rock stars and those who party like them: how do you live after putting the bottle down? For McKagan, the answer is to stay perpetually busy—with family, exercise, reading, meditation, and, of course, concert touring. The book alternates tales of road-tripping in support of various bands with chapters on music, dating, fashion, and sightseeing. On the downside, the tour leaves McKagan with serious pneumonia while facing his 50th birthday; on the upside, he attends business school. Unfortunately, his humblebrag tone can grow tiresome as he observes that his family is perfect, he gets last-minute Super Bowl tickets, and he can hold his own against kickboxing champions. McKagan's "manly" advice tends toward the self-evident, and his 100 greatest albums list is surprisingly bland (his book list is far more intriguing). The sizable chip on McKagan's shoulder might stem from being the youngest of eight in a single-parent, blue-collar family, but this goes largely unexplored. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The World's Largest Man

Harrison Scott Key. Harper, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-235149-4

Humorist Key was born in Memphis, but when he was six, his father moved the family back to his native Mississippi—a state, according to Key, that's "too impoverished to afford punctuation, where some families save their whole lives for a semicolon." Ever the raconteur, Key fills this rollicking memoir with tales of growing up with a larger-than-life father and being raised in the country, where boys would learn to fish and hunt and farm. Key soon discovers that he'd rather be reading than hunting, though he's reluctant ever to speak with his father about his hobby; the men in his family shun all books except the Bible, which they read more out of fear and guilt than genuine interest. Eventually, after Key kills his first deer, he and his father come to détente about Key's reading, and the son spends his mornings in his deer stand reading Tolkien rather than picking off bucks. When Key heads off to college and then becomes a husband and a father, he realizes how much he's inherited his father's "redneck" ways, but he also recognizes that he can never love what his father loves, no matter how hard he's tried. Key's memoir concludes by narrating the struggles many men experience: sons never living up to their fathers' expectations, sons feeling that they've let down or hurt their fathers, a sometimes lengthy period of alienation, and the healing moments brought on by the father's new bond with his son's children. (May)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sick in the Head

Judd Apatow. Random, $27 (512p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9757-6

In this hilarious, insightful, and deeply personal look into what makes comedians tick, writer-director-producer Apatow (Freaks and Geeks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, etc.) gives his fellow comedy nerds a generations-spanning backstage peek at some of America's greatest humorists. Apatow includes his interviews with a veritable Who's Who of the comedy world, from old-school stalwarts Mel Brooks and Steve Martin to Apatow's contemporaries, including Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham. Each talk is quirky and personable in its own way; what makes them resonate even more is the fact that Apatow undertook several of them while still in high school and working for the student radio station, lugging a tape recorder around to interview comedians and asking them "How do you write a joke?" One of the best interviews, which he did in 1983 at age 15, is with Jerry Seinfeld, a scenario the two repeated in 2014. Apatow's undeniable respect for his comedy idol is clear, and so is Seinfeld's genuine interest in discussing his craft, even with a teenager. Apatow's breadth of experience is not nearly as impressive as the sheer pleasure he so obviously derives from talking about the craft he loves with people who love it too. This exploration of what it really means to be funny, day in and day out, is for the comedian in everyone. (June)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty

Bengie Molina, with Joan Ryan. Simon & Schuster, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4104-2

More than a standard baseball memoir, this glowing tribute to Molina's father, Pai, rates as one of the most heartfelt, earnest accounts of a son assuming his father's dream of reaching the major leagues. Molina, teamed with journalist Ryan, writes with warmth and respect of the father who trained his three sons in the lessons of baseball in a barrio in a small Puerto Rican town, grooming them to become All-Star catchers in major leagues. Carrying Pai's pro ball dreams, Molina played for the Anaheim Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, and San Francisco Giants. No baseball position requires as much stamina, pain tolerance, and skill as the catcher, which all three Molina brothers played, leaving them with swollen hands and bruised limbs. Molina soldiers through the challenges of breaking through professionally to two World Championship rings and two Gold Glove Awards, after laboring in the minors and contending with a strained marriage and the financial needs of a family. In precise and thoughtful prose, Molina celebrates his famous bloodline as well as his own success, mastering the game behind home plate with skill and style for the enjoyment of the fans. (June)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The World's 60 Best Burgers... Period

Veronique Paradis. Cardinal (IPS, North American dist.), $17.95 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-2-920943-63-6

Paradis, a Montreal-based chef who has also cooked in European and Australian restaurants, invites the backyard barbecue chef into the kitchen for some truly decadent burgers. Her recipes are enhanced by fellow chef Antoine Sicotte's spectacular photography, as well as the book's clever layout and useful tips. Readers will want to try gourmet dishes like the braised beef burger with basil orange mayonnaise, Cajun shrimp with saffron mayonnaise, and the Vietnamese burger with spicy ginger. These recipes take a few more minutes to make than the typical burger, but the results will delight. As in other books in this collection, the author provides concise and simple cooking instructions. Several indexes guide the reader to recipes, ingredients, sauces, and garnishes. A colorful legend rates each dish for spiciness, richness, acidity, and cost. Instructions are well laid out, listing ingredients for the burger first, then each of the accompaniments, followed by easy-to-follow preparation directions. Readers will enjoy Paradis's unique flavor combinations and inspiring new ideas. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The World's 60 Best Skewers... Period

Veronique Paradis. Cardinal (IPS, North American dist.), $17.95 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-2-924155-14-1

This skewer-focused installment continues the World's 60 Best series created by Paradis, a chef who has cooked in some of Montreal's finest kitchens as well in Europe and Australia. Paradis's skewers can be barbecued or grilled and are perfect for entertaining, either as appetizers, or main courses. Readers will want to sample classic recipes including the lamb souvlaki and the chicken satay. They will learn how to pack ground meat around the skewer for spiced beef kebabs and lamb kofta. Seafood lovers will find an array of appealing dishes such as the coconut curry shrimp with julienne mango salad, crispy spiced scallops dipped in a lemon cream sauce, and Nippon tuna on a bed of cucumber salad. Inventive ideas, such as brunch brochettes with cubes of French toast skewered with fresh blueberries and raspberries, offer stylish ways to impress guests. Beautiful color photos taken by fellow chef Antoine Sicotte make this a visually sumptuous book. Practical readers will appreciate the ingredient index, list of must-have kitchen tools, tips and tricks, and clear ratings of each recipe's preparation time, spiciness, richness and cost. (June)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, the Monkees, and Turning Mayhem into Miracles

Bobby Hart, with Glenn Ballantyne. SelectBooks, $26.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59079-290-2

Hart, half of a songwriting duo that crafted hundreds of 1960s and '70s pop hits and gave the made-for-TV band the Monkees their signature theme song and "Last Train to Clarksville," aims to inspire readers' creativity with this earnest but not terribly interesting autobiography. Fans of mass-produced pop will be pleased to read about Hart's early songwriting days, which gave the world "Come a Little Bit Closer," a great hit for the long-ago Jay and the Americans, and led to a gig (with writing partner Tommy Boyce) supplying tunes for the "Pre-Fab Four." Apart from an engaging discussion of both songwriting and the technical production aspects of some of his Monkees work, there's little exploration of the songwriting craft. Instead, Hart piles on plenty of earnest, cheery aphorisms about creativity, offered in several lists of maxims, helpful hints, and inspirational sayings. These include "Your Thoughts Create Your Reality" and other distillations of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, a book whose influence Hart cites throughout his ghostwritten account. Readers may appreciate the brief look at the mid-1960s machinery of creating mass musical entertainment, but there's not much else that will keep anyone but a deeply dedicated fan turning the pages. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/26/2015 | Details & Permalink

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