Annal: 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 1998.

Book:Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Visions of Jazz: The First Century

Gary Giddins

From Louis Armstrong’s renegade style trumpet playing to Frank Sinatra’s intimate crooning, jazz critic Gary Giddins continually astonishes us with his unparalleled insight. In just a few lines, he captures the essence of Louis Armstrong, “He could telegraph with a growl or a rolling of his eyes his independence, confidence, and security. As the embodiment of jazz, he made jazz the embodiment of the individual.” Giddins maintains, contrary to the opinion of most jazz enthusiasts, that Armstrongs voice was as much an integral part of creating jazz singing as his trumpet was to creating jazz. Perhaps the most remarkable chapters in the book are those that do pay tribute to the great jazz singers. Billie Holiday profoundly impacted music history, and Giddins eloquently honors her “gutted voice, drawled phrasing, and wayworn features.” Many artists, such as Irving Berlin and Rosemary Clooney, have been traditionally dismissed by fans and critics as merely popular derivatives of true jazz. Giddins finally…[more]

Book:Hip Hop America

Hip Hop America

Nelson George

Nelson George has been part of the hip hop world since day one, and he offers an insider’s tour through a multimedia phenomenon of which rap music is only the audible manifestation—from the Sugar Hill Gang through Public Enemy, Sister Souljah, and C. Delores Tucker to Puff Daddy. His themes reflect those of hip hop itself—drugs, fashion, incarceration, basketball, entrepreneurship, technology, language. He recounts the troubling way in which Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and Wall Street followed the leads of beverage companies and sports promoters who embraced hip hop in their bid to reach not just young black consumers but all young people. He looks at the motifs of violence and misogyny for which it is condemned, at the myths and realities of crossover, and at accusations that hip hop is merely the newest form of blaxploitation.

George turns hip hop over and looks at it as a music, a style, a language, a business, a myth and a moral force, and when…[more]

Book:Out of Sheer Rage

Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence

Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer had always wanted to write a book about D. H. Lawrence. He wanted, in fact, to write his “Lawrence book.” The problem was he had no idea what his “Lawrence book” would be, though he was determined to write a “sober critical study.” Luckily for the reader, he failed miserably.

Out of Sheer Rage is a harrowing, comic, and grand act of literary deferral. Dyer doesn’t much feel like reading the major Lawrence works and would just as soon be working on his novel, which, actually, he also doesn’t feel like writing—he’d rather discuss Rilke, Camus, and Bernhard. At times a furious repudiation of the act of writing itself, this is not so much a book about Lawrence as a book about writing a book about Lawrence. Accompanied by his ever-patient almost-wife, Laura, Dyer hits the Lawrence trail—Taormina, Taos, Oaxaca, and Eastwood—with absolutely disastrous (and hilarious) results.

Book:Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

Harold Bloom

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is the culmination of Harold Bloom’s life’s work in reading, writing about, and teaching Shakespeare. It is his passionate and convincing analysis of the way in which Shakespeare not merely represented human nature as we know it today, but actually created it: before Shakespeare, there was characterization; after Shakespeare, there was character, men and women with highly individual personalities—Hamlet, Falstaff, Iago, Cleopatra, Macbeth, Rosalind, and Lear, among them. In making his argument, Bloom leads us through a brilliant and comprehensive reading of every one of Shakespeare’s plays.

According to a New York Times report on Shakespeare last year, “more people are watching him, reading him, and studying him than ever before.” Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human is a landmark contribution, a book that will be…[more]

Book:The Sounds of Poetry

The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide

Robert Pinsky

The Poet Laureate’s clear and entertaining account of how poetry works.

“Poetry is a vocal, which is to say a bodily, art,” Robert Pinsky declares in The Sounds of Poetry. “The medium of poetry is the human body: the column of air inside the chest, shaped into signifying sounds in the larynx and the mouth. In this sense, poetry is as physical or bodily an art as dancing.”

As Poet Laureate, Pinsky is one of America’s best spokesmen for poetry. In this fascinating book, he explains how poets use the “technology” of poetry—its sounds—to create works of art that are “performed” in us when we read them aloud.

He devotes brief, informative chapters to accent and duration, syntax and line, like and unlike sounds, blank and free verse. He cites examples from the work of fifty different poets—from Shakespeare, Donne, and Herbert to W. C. Williams, Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, C. K. Williams, Louise Glück, and Frank Bidart.

This ideal introductory volume belongs in the library of every poet and student of poetry.

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