Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday New and Noteworthy--What Oprah Knows and What "The Baffler" Knows are Not Necessarily the Same Thing, Plus The Impulse Society, Civil War Women, and The Beethoven Update.

I don't know if I would be highlighting the new book from Oprah Winfrey, What I Know for Sure, if it weren't also the first release in the new Flatiron Books division, headed by Bob Miller, the man who started up Hyperion and HarperStudio. This started as a column in the eponymously named magazine, revised, updated, and sorted by theme. There was lots of media attention when this project was signed up, such as this piece in The Hollywood Reporter. I'm sure the publisher hopes they get just as much attention today.

I'm not sure what Paul Roberts would say about Oprah's impulse to offer everyone in the audience a car or a trip to Greece. In The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification (Bloomsbury), the journalist and author of The End of Food and The End of Oil, looks at "how the pursuit of short-term self-gratification, once scorned as a sign of personal weakness, became the default principle not only for individuals, but for all sectors of our society." He's got a lot of advance quotes from social critics and environmental reporters, such as Elizabeth Kolbert, who observes that "Paul Roberts traces the country's many, disparate ills to the same source: as a nation, we’ve abandoned the common good. His analysis is smart, provocative, and timely. The Impulse Society compels us to reexamine what it is that we really want." While I find the book's premise compelling, I do question whether this is one of those "kids today" commentaries--it strikes me that selfish robber barons, wars, persecution for economic ends and all-around selfishness have had cyclical impact since time immemorial. Convince me this is new, Paul!

I'm told consensus is the enemy of No Future for You: Salvos from "The Baffler" (MIT), edited by John Summers, Chris Lehmann, and Thomas Frank, with contributions from Heather Havrileski, Evgeny Morozov, Susan Faludi, David Graeber, Rick Perlstein, and Barbara Ehrenreich. That said, Michael Patrick Brady's review in the Boston Globe shoes that there is some agreement in the arguing that "the essays in No Future for You all coalesce around a singular theme. They point an accusatory finger at a society that emphasizes the primacy of private enterprise over public investment, individual development over collective action, and 'lookingforward' over reckoning with the mistakes of the past--solutions that just so happen to benefit the entrenched, moneyed interests that work hardest to promote them." Hey, the books are more connected than it appeared at first glance.

Enough about ideology--remember when we had those burlesque dancers at Boswell? Instead of shimmying, they discussed their craft as an opener for Karen Abbott, who wrote American Rose, a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee. Her new book is Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (Harper). From the publisher: "Abbott's pulse-quickening narrative weaves the adventures of these four forgotten daredevils into the tumultuous landscape of a broken America, evoking a secret world that will surprise even the most avid enthusiasts of Civil War-era history." It's too early for trade reviews but Kirkus's rendering: "Remarkable, brave lives rendered in a fluidly readable, even romantic history lesson." Civil War books usually mean a tour through the South for publishers, so if you want to catch Abbott, it looks like Square Books, Malaprops, and Quail Ridge are among her stops. Milwaukeeans who want to see her have several opportunities in suburban Chicago as well--check her website for more info.

Looks like our wholesaler Ingram had a run on Jan Swofford's Beethoven: Angony and Triumph (HMH), which came out at the beginning of August; they are now completely out of stock (though we do have books). It's probably due to reviews like Matt Damsker's in USA Today: "Following Jan Swafford through the thousand-plus pages of his new biography of Ludwig van Beethoven is hardly as exhilarating as listening to the music of the peerless composer. But the stately rhythm, carefully etched detailing and oceanic sweep of this ambitious book mirror the complexity and richness of Beethoven's revolutionary Romanticism. It may be hard to grasp, but surrender to it and it's easy to be swept away." Swafford is both composer and critic, having penned biographies of Ives and Brahms and The Vintage Guide to Classical Music, and as for his music, his website lists his work.

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