Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2009.
A frank and fascinating exploration of race and racial identity
In a book that begins with a series of lynchings and ends with a series of apologies, Eula Biss explores race in America. Her response to the topic is informed by the experiences chronicled in these essays—teaching in a Harlem school on the morning of 9/11, reporting for an African American newspaper in San Diego, watching the aftermath of Katrina from a college town in Iowa, and settling in Chicago’s most diverse neighborhood.
As Biss moves across the country from New York to California to the Midwest, her essays move across time from biblical Babylon to the freedman’s schools of Reconstruction to a Jim Crow mining town to post-war white flight. She brings an eclectic education to the page, drawing variously on the Eagles, Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Baldwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Joan Didion, religious…[more]
Essays and critical writings on contemporary poetry by Stephen Burt, “the finest critic of his generation” (Lucie Brock-Broido).
Stephen Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense provokes readers into the elliptical worlds of Rae Armantrout, Paul Muldoon, C. D. Wright, and other contemporary poets whose complexities make them challenging, original, and, finally, readable. Burt’s intelligence and enthusiasm introduce both tentative and longtime poetry readers to the rewards of reading new poetry. As Burt writes in the title essay: “The poets I know don’t want to be famous people half so much as they want their best poems read; I want to help you find and read them. I write here for people who want to read more new poetry but somehow never get around to it; for people who enjoy Seamus Heaney or Elizabeth Bishop and want to know what next; for people who enjoy John Ashbery or Anne Carson but aren’t sure why; and, especially, for people who read the half-column poems in glossy magazines and ask, ‘Is that all there is?’”
From Agee to Astaire, Steinbeck to Ellington, the creative energies of the Depression against a backdrop of poverty and economic disaster. Only yesterday the Great Depression seemed like a bad memory, receding into the hazy distance with little relevance to our own flush times. Economists assured us that the calamities that befell our grandparents could not happen again, yet the recent economic meltdown has once again riveted the world’s attention on the 1930s.
Now, in this timely and long-awaited cultural history, Morris Dickstein, whom Norman Mailer called “one of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature,” explores the anxiety and hope, the despair and surprising optimism of a traumatized nation. Dickstein’s fascination springs from his own childhood, from a father who feared a pink slip every Friday and from his own love of the more exuberant side of the era: zany screwball comedies, witty musicals, and the lubricious choreography…[more]
Heroes and Villains is the first collection of essays by David Hajdu, award-winning author of The Ten-Cent Plague, Positively 4th Street, and Lush Life. Eclectic and controversial, Hajdu’s essays take on topics as varied as pop music, jazz, the avant-garde, comic books, and our downloading culture. The heart of Heroes and Villains is an extraordinary new piece of cultural rediscovery, original to this book. It tells the untold story of one of the most important—and, ultimately, one of the most tragic—figures in American popular music, Billy Eckstine. Through exhaustive new research, Hajdu shows how this great, forgotten singer, once more popular than Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, transformed American music by combining sex appeal, sophistication, and black machismo—in the era of segregation. The cost, for Eckstine, was his career—and nearly his life. …[more]
In 1915, Thomas Edison proclaimed that he could record a live performance and reproduce it perfectly, shocking audiences who found themselves unable to tell whether what they were hearing was an Edison Diamond Disc or a flesh-and-blood musician. Today, the equation is reversed. Whereas Edison proposed that a real performance could be rebuilt with absolute perfection, Pro Tools and digital samplers now allow musicians and engineers to create the illusion of performances that never were. In between lies a century of sonic exploration into the balance between the real and the represented.
Tracing the contours of this history, Greg Milner takes us through the major breakthroughs and glorious failures in the art and science of recording. An American soldier monitoring Nazi radio transmissions stumbles onto the open yet revolutionary secret of magnetic tape. Japanese and Dutch researchers build a first-generation digital audio format and watch as their “compact…[more]