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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stoned in the ’60s

Zachary Lazar’s Sway: A Novel (Little, Brown) is a guide to self-involved characters slopping around in the sexual mud and quicksand of the ’60s. All of the characters are members of The Rolling Stones or were associated with them as the 1960s counterculture went the wrong way. Many had to scream “Gimme shelter!” for real. To reference another Stones song, there had been too much sympathy for the devil. The ’60s ran out of brilliant ideas midway through, and the end of it all is what this novel is about, with the Stones as cultural vortex.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Preview

When Marie Antoinette was reputed (however erroneously) to have waived off the plight of France’s starving masses with the words “Let them eat cake” she was clearly unaware of the dire repercussions. The same might be said of the characters in Joanne Fluke’s best-selling Hannah Swensen mysteries. Dead bodies keep turning up in a small Minnesotan town, bearing evidence of having indulged in Swensen’s sweet delights prior to their demise.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Preview

Moe Prager is no stranger to cold cases. You might even say the former NYPD officer and protagonist of Reed Farrel Coleman’s award-winning P.I. series relishes the challenges they pose. He lives by Faulkner’s words, “The past is never dead,” the truth of which becomes unequivocally clear in Coleman’s fifth novel of the series, Empty Ever After.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(Random House), by Truman Capote

Similar to viewing scarce footage of John Coltrane or hearing an unknown concert recording by Woody Guthrie, this new collection of Truman Capote’s previously uncollected essays encourages a re-evaluation of his canon. Because each of these essays had been published separately during the author’s life, this compilation doesn’t possess the same scholarly fascination as 2005’s release of Summer Crossing, Capote’s lost first novel. Still, Portraits and Observations should spark renewed and deserved interest in this unique American voice.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

(University of Wisconsin), edited by Marcus C. Levitt and Tatyan

Violence has been inseparable from the human condition, so why pick on Russia? The editors of this collection of scholarly essays fail to make their case, but that doesn’t mean that many of the book’s articles aren’t worth reading. Violence is a broad theme and the contributors to Times of Trouble explore the subject along many avenues. Among the most interesting topics are women writers who survived the Gulag, psychological violence in Dostoyevsky, the curmudgeonly and skeptical late-Soviet novelist Viktor Astaf’ev and an astute psychological examination of Stalinism whose conclusion is that Stalin and his henchmen feared the Russian people as much as the people feared them.
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Book Review

Herbert von Karajan was one of classical music’s towering figures in the 20th century. The Austrian conductor’s career began under the Nazis (even though Hitler considered him “un- German”) and continued after World War II, when he rapidly attained star status. The text to A Life in Pictures summarizes his life and career, but, as the title suggests, the photographs are the focus of this coffee-table book. The best are black-and-white, artful compositions in light and shadow. Their subjects cover Karajan at work and play—he loved zooming around in sports cars and speedboats when he wasn’t conducting meticulous and powerful interpretations of great symphonies.
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

How corporations ape the underground

In the summer of 2005, Nike SB, a division of the shoe giant in charge of producing footwear for skateboarders, created an advertisement for their upcoming skateboarding tour that attempted to connect the brand with the type of music that many skaters loved. Titled “Major Threat,” the ad reproduced the iconic album art of hardcore punk legends Minor Threat’s 1981 self-titled album. The response from many skaters—and from Dischord Records, the Washington, D.C., label run by former Minor Threat frontman Ian MacKaye—was swift and predictable.
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008

(Abrams), by Lorenzo Ottaviani

By the 1920s, high-end travel by ship, train and airplane had become a thriving business the world over, promoted by colorful posters of great artistry. Travel Italia surveys work by some of Italy’s best commercial artists in the field. The earlier pieces were mostly illustrative of particular destinations.
Friday, Feb. 22, 2008

Book Preview

Since publishing his first novel, The Death of Vishnu, Manil Suri has joined the pantheon of Indian writers gaining widespread recognition for their English prose. The first of his books to use the Hindu trinity to explore the present-day realities of India, it was intended as part of a trilogy, albeit one that departs from the traditional format of continuous plot and characters. “It’s rather like three panels of a triptych in the sense that there are these three faces of the Hindu trinity, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, and I was trying to distill the essence of each,” Suri says.
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008

Raving about Otto Preminger

Otto Preminger’s stage and screen Nazis (think Stalag 17) may well have provided a perverse, self-styled role model for the famous director, one he developed with tyrannical relish off-screen as well. According to Foster Hirsch in his stunning, eminently readable biography, Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would be King (Alfred Knopf), the filmmaker’s Prussians registered with conviction, yielding none of the serpentine sophistication that made Conrad Veidt’s characterization in Casablanca an intellectual delight.