From the Shelf
Children's Book Week: Almost 100!
The 99th Children's Book Week begins in just a few days, starting Monday, April 30 and continuing through Sunday, May 6. This year's official poster is illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and inspired by the 2018 slogan, "One World, Many Stories," and there are exclusive bookmarks by children's book illustrators Sophie Blackall, Vashti Harrison, Don Tate, Leo Espinosa and Felicita Sala. Here's a look at some awesome works by the above illustrators to get you in the CBW spirit.
Jillian Tamaki illustrated Kate Beasley's middle grade debut, Gertie's Leap to Greatness, in which Gertie vows to be the best fifth-grader ever to prove to the mom who abandoned her that she is special.
In Sophie Blackall's The Baby Tree, words and pictures remain firmly planted in the boy narrator's consciousness as he attempts to understand the impending arrival of a new sibling.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History originally began as Vashti Harrison's social media project during Black History Month and highlights courageous African American women who broke new ground by following their dreams.
Don Tate's Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth is an honest and entertaining biography of Friedrich Wilhelm Müller/Eugen Sandow, a man once considered "the most perfect male specimen alive."
Illustrator Leo Espinosa brought Junot Díaz's first children's book, Islandborn, to brilliant life, blending the fantastical and true in a story of a young Dominican-American girl's first home in the Caribbean.
Felicita Sala illustrated Anne Renaud's deliciously funny take on the legend of George Crum, often credited with the invention of the potato chip, in Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament.
There is also an original Children's Book Week Comic that can be downloaded here, and the Children's and Teen Choice Book Award voting has already begun! Vote for your favorites here. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Liam Callanan
A love letter to reading, writing and all things French, Paris by the Book combines a charming first-person protagonist, a nuanced family drama and the magic of Paris.
by Jed Alexander
This crafty take on "Little Red Riding Hood" is more of a reshowing than a retelling: it's entirely wordless.
by Menno Schilthuizen
Well-researched and a joy to read, Darwin Comes to Town investigates how urban development is shaping evolution in the natural world.
Review by Subjects:
From Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe
04/26/2018 - 6:00PMA fresh approach to exploring interracial communication. In an unusual, long-distance collaboration, poets Latham and Waters have crafted a collection of poems that explore the intersection between race and childhood friendships. Each poet reveals his or her individual perspective on shared experiences by imagining their childhood selves existing in the current day of complex racial realities. Their interactions, expressed through poetic verse, navigate the ambiguous and often challenging...
04/26/2018 - 7:00PMJoin host and Malaprop’s bookseller Justin Souther to discuss writers—and their literature—in translation, and the cultural, political and artistic influences that shape them. This month’s book is Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, translated by Andrew Bromfield.
Writers on Their Pets
"From Godlike cats, to noble dogs," GoCompare "created a series of illustrations celebrating what 10 wordsmiths had to say about their beloved pets."
J.K. Rowling surprised the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child company with a visit to the Lyric Theatre just two days before the official Broadway opening.
"FYI, you can watch astronauts read popular kids books from space," the Huffington Post reported.
Buzzfeed showcased "12 portraits of poets show sides you really wouldn't expect."
"He was Harvard's class poet." Mental Floss collected "15 facts about Ralph Waldo Emerson."
"Fresh voices: 50 writers you should read now" were featured by the Guardian.
Rediscover: Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies, William Golding's classic tale of juvenile savagery, turns 64 this year. It was his debut novel, and an initial commercial disappointment before exploding into the mega-bestseller now ensconced in the modern literary canon. Lord of the Flies also frequently lands on school reading lists, where children of similar age to Ralph and Piggy get dark glimpses of ids untethered by island isolation. The descent of British schoolboys from airplane crash survivors into tribal murderers has left indelible marks on pop culture--the conch, the hog's head swarming with flies, poor Piggy and his glasses--and sewed seeds of inspiration in whole generations of writers. Stephen King's fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine was named after the boulder formation used as a fort by Jack's rival tribe in Lord of the Flies. King also wrote an introduction to a 2011 edition of the book released for Golding's 100th birthday (he died in 1993).
Golding's other novels span a range of genres, from his nautical To the Ends of the Earth trilogy, about a British man-of-war's travels to Australia in the 19th century, to The Inheritors, about the extinction of Neanderthals at the hands of modern man. Lord of the Flies remains his paramount literary work, one that has been reprinted dozens of times. In 2016, Penguin Classics released a deluxe edition with King's introduction, a foreword by Lois Lowry, an essay by E.M. Forster, an essay on how to teach the novel by Jennifer Buehler, a note by E.L. Epstein, publisher of the first American paperback copy, and an evocative new cover ($16, 9780143129400). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Lauren Moseley
|photo: Tasha Thomas|
Lauren Moseley's poems have appeared in the anthologies Best New Poets and Women Write Resistance and in such magazines as FIELD, Narrative, Copper Nickel, West Branch Wired and Pleiades. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Moseley has been a fellow at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and a recipient of an artist's grant from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She lives in Durham, N.C., and works at Algonquin Books. Big Windows (Carnegie Mellon University Press, February 13, 2018) is her debut poetry collection.
On your nightstand now:
Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton, River Hymns by Tyree Daye, Between My Father and the King by Janet Frame, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay, In Which I Play the Runaway by Rochelle Hurt, Bestiary by Donika Kelly, The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Darwin's Mother by Sarah Rose Nordgren, The End of Pink by Kathryn Nuernberger, Artful by Ali Smith, Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, We Are Only Taking What We Need by Stephanie Powell Watts and several Algonquin manuscripts. (I have a big nightstand. It's a problem.) Some of these I've read, some I'm in the middle of and some I've just started. I love rereading poetry collections especially, so those are particularly difficult to move from the land of The Nightstand to The Bookshelf.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Professor Possum's Great Adventure by Michael Pellowski. I grew up in a house in the woods in North Carolina, and my sister and I played at the creek nearly every day. Our mother is a biologist, specializing in ornithology, and our father also has a great love for nature and exploration. They raised us to be adventurers, and my sister has followed in my mother's footsteps. Now I'm the only woman in my nuclear family who isn't an ornithologist! When I was little, I loved Professor Possum, because he goes on a hair-raising journey to a jungle island in search of a rare species of butterfly. I now somewhat disapprove of the book's ending, because the professor takes butterflies and their preferred trees out of their natural habitat and reestablishes them in his own backyard (one could be arrested for doing such things with wildlife from a national park, for example), but when I was a child, that sounded like paradise. I wanted the natural world in my bedroom.
Your top five authors:
Tracy K. Smith
Book you've faked reading:
One day I sat down to read my two-year-old godson a book. He had selected Kay Thompson's Eloise, about the mischievous six-year-old girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel. Have you ever tried to read that book to a toddler in one sitting? He might as well have picked out Infinite Jest. Eloise is just 68 pages, but it has quite a lot of text for an illustrated book, thanks to the large trim size. We were late for lunch, so I eventually had to flip through dozens of pages, read the final lines, and say, "The end!" (which is, incidentally, exactly how I read Infinite Jest). I still feel bad about this.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Marisa Silver's Little Nothing, a philosophical fairy tale in the form of an unputdownable novel. Read it, and then let's talk.
Book you've bought for the cover:
American Housewife by Helen Ellis, and I'm glad I did, because these stories are delightful, wickedly funny and so smart. I love this book.
Book you hid from your parents:
Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. The movie The Craft came out when I was 13. It was a perfect storm.
Book that changed your life:
The Lice by W.S. Merwin forever changed me as a poet. Merwin's deliberate lack of punctuation requires so much more of every phrase and line. And somehow, without punctuation, the images shine through more brightly. It's magic.
Favorite line from a book:
I keep a notebook of quotes, and I love them all. Here's one, from Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees: "When I began my professional career as a forester, I knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals." What a sharp simile.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. This is one of my favorite Algonquin books of all time, and the film version of the novel was nominated for four Oscars this year. The film is wonderful, but nothing can match this reading experience.
Five books you'll never part with:
Door in the Mountain by Jean Valentine--Jean is my favorite living poet, and she read from my copy of this book during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin--If you can find prose more worthy of exaltation than passages from "Sonny's Blues" or "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon," please let me know!
The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures edited by Robert Bly--Highly recommended for both lovers of verse and those who rarely read poetry.
The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges--My second book of poems, which I'm working on now, is somewhat like a bestiary, and this is THE ULTIMATE bestiary.
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro--In 2010, my husband and I were on a short vacation with his family, in Shepherdstown, W.Va. We stopped in Four Seasons Books, and I picked up a hardcover of Too Much Happiness, which had just come out. Shamefully, I hadn't read much Alice Munro before, but I read the first page of this collection and was instantly hooked. I went on to read every story she's ever published. It was a classic moment of indie bookstore browsing bliss.
Paris by the Book
by Liam Callanan
In Paris by the Book, Liam Callanan (All Saints, The Cloud Atlas) offers an enchanting survey of Paris and a nuanced portrait of a family struggling to understand one another. After her author husband, Robert, disappears--leaving the words I'm sorry scrawled in an old book--Leah moves from Wisconsin to Paris with her two teenage daughters to live out the plot of Robert's latest work in progress. Together, she and her daughters buy a quaint bookstore and begin to settle down in their magical new city. Still, none of them can let go of the belief that Robert is still out there--maybe even in Paris--and will someday return to them. As Leah considers moving on, she and her daughters grapple with the memories of the man they knew and the meaning of artistic love and obsession.
Like Paris, Callanan's novel provides both delightful entertainment and deep emotional appeal. He delicately balances the Parisian setting, with its resonance in immortal children's literature and its romantic expectations, and the intricate, sometimes heart-rending mysteries of marriage and parenthood. Callanan probes artistic impulse and mental health--exploring depression, obsession and loyalty--in the most gentle, deft manner possible. Through it all, Leah's wry and insightful first-person voice shines. Led by such a charming and persuasive guide, this novel ensures that Leah's world, like the beguiling streets of Paris, is one readers will want to revisit and rediscover. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A love letter to reading, writing and all things French, Paris by the Book combines a charming first-person protagonist, a nuanced family drama and the magic of Paris.
Women in Sunlight
by Frances Mayes
Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun, Under Magnolia) returns to the sensuous glories of Italy in her beautifully rendered and richly woven novel Women in Sunlight. Catherine "Kit" Raine is an American expat in her late 30s. She has lived and worked as a successful writer and poet nestled in the Tuscan hills of San Rocco for 12 years. Her current project is a biography of fellow American Margaret Merrill--an older woman, good friend and a writer whom Kit admired--who set down roots in Tuscany much earlier.
When Margaret died, she surprisingly bequeathed her estate to Kit. Their friendship was at times rocky and difficult. However, Margaret's posthumous generosity made a lasting impression on Kit. In trying to broaden the readership of Margaret's work--and better understand her enigmatic friend--Kit grapples with memories on the page that lead Kit to examine her own life and future.
Kit's quest deepens when three American women--and their unruly dog--move into the villa next door. The three women are new friends, all retired, who met at an orientation for a 55-and-over retirement community near their homes in Chapel Hill, N.C. The threesome are still vital and active enough to assert their independence.
Mayes's writing glimmers with masterful sensory descriptions. Readers can practically taste the white foam that tops cappuccinos, step into elongated shadows cast by cypress trees and feel the echoing cold retained amid old stone villas. Mayes delivers another intimate story, told in lively episodes, that details how unexpected friendships can lead to reinvention and bright new beginnings at any age. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Four very different American women experience reinvention and self-discovery when they settle in Tuscany and explore all that Italy has to offer.
by Rebecca Harrington
It's tough being a millennial in New York City. Just ask Elinor, the aspiring journalism grad of Rebecca Harrington's second novel, Sociable (after Penelope). Elinor works as a nanny to pay the bills and lives with her boyfriend, Mike, on a rollup foam bed in a kitchenless basement apartment. She obsesses about her appearance, her relationship, her poverty, her feminism and her lack of a writing career.
Elinor gets her chance at writing, though, with the trendy Journalism.ly, where she is a "viral trends editor." Her new boss, a downsized, middle-aged, Jersey newspaper guy, hires her with a shrug because "she could probably tweet and Snapchat and Instagram and make listicles." Welcome to the new journalism.
When the self-centered Mike leaves her to concentrate on his writing, she tanks. He predictably ghosts her pleading texts.
Harrington's got media-based youth culture down cold, with dialogue peppered with conversation-pausing likes and barhopping friends who are "nice girls. They're just very into their phones." Finally, Elinor finds some baby-step redemption when she posts a personal essay about her breakup and it goes viral. She even gets a brief cameo on a TV talk show about the perils of dating in the digital age. Maybe Elinor really can make it in the new journalism. Maybe she looks just fine. Who knows? Harrington's diverting Sociable ends ambiguously with that ubiquitous social media scream: "OMG." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Writing listicles instead of real reporting, Elinor finds her life trending nowhere until she posts a personal essay from the heart that goes viral.
by Richard Powers
In The Overstory, National Book Award-winner Richard Powers (Orfeo) skillfully interrogates a vital issue--the wanton destruction of our natural environment--without losing sight of the intimate human dimension of the story.
Nicholas Hoel is a descendant of a man who launched a 100-year time-lapse photography project of a single Iowa chestnut tree, the "redwood of the East," now nearly extinct. Adam Appich is a member of a family that plants a different species of tree with the birth of each child. Neelay Mehta--the designer of a computer game that evolves over two decades into an online role-playing colossus--draws inspiration from the trees on the Stanford campus. The intersection of their lives involves protests around clear-cutting of public lands, first in California and then at a site in the Pacific Northwest a group of protestors have named "The Free Bioregion of Cascadia." Nicholas and Olivia Vandergriff, a college dropout, rename themselves "Watchman" and "Maidenhair," and take up residence high in a 200-foot-tall redwood. Their fellow demonstrators engage in other acts of civil disobedience. But when those steps, buttressed by litigation, prove fruitless, Nicholas, Olivia, Adam and others initiate more dramatic action, with disastrous consequences.
Powers makes no secret that his sympathies lie with those trying to halt the destruction of old-growth timber, a process one character likens to "burning down the library, art museum, pharmacy, and hall of records, all at once." But he does so with deep sensitivity, not dogmatism, and with a clear-eyed recognition that sometimes advocacy and zealotry tragically become one. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: In a novel about the fight to save ancient forests, Richard Powers ponders the limits of environmental activism.
Mystery & Thriller
by Christine Mangan
Christine Mangan's first novel, Tangerine, offers suspense and lingering questions in a drama centered on the post-college relationship between two young women recently relocated to Morocco.
Lucy Mason and Alice Shipley were roommates at Bennington College in Vermont. They came from quite different circumstances: Alice was a well-off British orphan, whose guardian, Aunt Maude, is serious but somewhat unfeeling in her role. Lucy was a scholarship student, also an orphan, and this similarity is part of what led the pair to bond. They were terribly close in college--until the accident.
In alternating chapters, the reader encounters past and present through Lucy's and Alice's respective perspectives. An epilogue and prologue, with unnamed narrators, offer more mystery. The two women's accounts of past events differ only slightly, at first. But as the novel unfolds, it becomes complicated. Lucy's devotion is perhaps a bit too intense. Alice's agoraphobia is variously attributed to her parents' death, or to a more sinister cause. Eventually, their memories of their shared past diverge enough that the question can no longer be ignored. Is this gaslighting? Mental illness? Surreality? Are these the simple mistakes of memory or is there a more ominous force at work?
Tangerine is a novel of intrigue and shifting perspectives, starring two ultimately unreliable narrators. Its appeal lies in the lush, sensual setting; the metered release of information about the shadowy past; and especially in untangling the twisted mystery of the present. Suspense fans will be well satisfied. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Former college roommates reunite in Morocco, with enigmatic tensions and references to a troubled past.
Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon
by Robert Kurson
Apollo 11 was the first Moon landing. Apollo 13 was the heroic rescue of a damaged ship. When asked what Apollo 8 did, many might be forgiven for needing a moment to think it over.
Apollo 8 marked the first time any human left the grip of Earth's gravity to venture to another world. This moonshot may not have left footprints in lunar regolith, but its mission was no less risky than Armstrong and Aldrin's walk. In fact, Apollo 8 was in some ways even more of a gamble than Apollo 11. It was originally a manned test of the Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Module/Command Module in Earth's orbit. But Soviet success in sending living creatures to the Moon and back, the ever-approaching deadline of JFK's "before the end of this decade" Moon landing deadline and the need for a morale boost at NASA turned Apollo 8 into a Moon mission on extremely short notice.
By the summer of 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were training on a truncated schedule for a mission with near-zero failure acceptability (Lovell would go on to command Apollo 13, whose lunar lander proved a life raft that Apollo 8 went without). In Rocket Men, Robert Kurson (Shadow Divers, Pirate Hunters) tracks this daring, often overshadowed Apollo mission from its hurried inception through its thrilling execution, all amid the wider turmoil of 1968 America--for which Apollo 8's live broadcasts and famous Earthrise photograph proved something of a balm. Rocket Men makes for riveting reading. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: The story of Apollo 8--sometimes overshadowed by other Moon missions--in which astronauts first ventured beyond Earth's gravity.
Nature & Environment
Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution
by Menno Schilthuizen
"Never before in the history of our planet," writes research scientist Menno Schilthuizen, "has a single life form been so dominant." Here he refers to humans, and throughout his beautifully researched and immensely engaging Darwin Comes to Town, he explores the surprising ways in which city development has shaped the natural world, right down to its DNA.
Among the highlights is the story of Manchester's peppered moth, which first emerged in nature as a pale, white-winged insect. By the middle of the Industrial Revolution, writes Schilthuizen, the moth's wings had evolved to coal black. The reason? To better blend in with the soot produced by the city's factories. The dark-winged moths were less visible to bird attacks than their white-winged siblings, so natural selection ultimately favored the former.
The stories captured here are not only fascinating to read; they are also evidence that evolution is happening at an extraordinarily fast pace. Indeed, it is something many of us will witness in our own lifetimes, says Schilthuizen, if only we care to look.
The author of three previous books, including Nature's Nether Regions, Schilthuizen largely avoids taking an ethical stance on our role in driving evolution. But he does insist that our role can no longer be ignored: "[We] have become fully integrated with everything that goes on this planet." Deeply informed by science but written for the layperson, Darwin Comes to Town is a hopeful reminder that nature can survive all kinds of destructive agents--even humans. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Well-researched and a joy to read, Darwin Comes to Town investigates how urban development is shaping evolution in the natural world.
Children's & Young Adult
by Jed Alexander
A little girl cloaked in red has every intention of bringing a picnic basket to her grandmother, who lives in a house in the woods. While she's out walking, she encounters a big--and, it must be said, bad-looking--wolf. You know where this is going... or do you?
Red's left-hand pages tell the same old story: the imposing wolf tries to intimidate the girl in red. But the right-hand pages tell the real story: various woodland animals clutching balloons, streamers and so forth sneak past the squaring-off girl and wolf, whose ambition, it turns out, is not to eat her but to distract her from the promenade of party guests. After the wolf finally lets her go on her way, the girl makes it safely to Grandmother's house, where she gets the shock of her life: she finds not a wolf in Grandma's clothing but a surprise birthday party in her honor.
There have been an incalculable number of picture book retellings of "Little Red Riding Hood," but Red may be the first wordless one, and it's certainly among those that most gleefully dash expectations--both the girl's and the reader's. Jed Alexander has given himself a tough assignment: he not only restricts himself to a wordless format but limits himself to a black-and-white palette with occasional red or pink accents. The result is a swift, smart-looking and wily inverted fairy tale in which the only thing the wolf has his eye on devouring is a piece of Red's triple-layer birthday cake. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This crafty take on "Little Red Riding Hood" is more of a reshowing than a retelling: it's entirely wordless.
The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee
by Deborah Abela
Although she's a brilliant speller, India Wimple is filled with "trepidation (fear)" at the thought of an "endeavor (attempt)" to win the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee in the "marvelous" Sydney Opera House. But with the support of "the thing that mattered most to her," her wacky, warmhearted family, and the loving community of Yungabilla, her small Australian town, she's going to give it a try.
India experiences many ups and downs on her road to Sydney. She is "terribly, horribly shy," and freezes in panic whenever attention lands on her. The idea of appearing in front of millions of people on TV is "daunting (intimidating)," to put it mildly. When her Yungabilla neighbors host a mock spelling bee in which every audience member wears animal costumes--chickens, pandas, frogs, peacocks--India relaxes briefly, but the nerves keep returning, even as she continues to win official rounds that bring her closer to the championship. And it's not only stage fright. She's also concerned about the mounting costs of the bees. And there's her very serious worry about her little brother, Boo, who suffers from severe asthma. As they all bump along toward the big event, the chances that India can make it through without "pass[ing] out or throw[ing] up" are "precarious (uncertain)."
Each chapter of Deborah Abela's The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee starts with a spelling word and its definition, hinting at the events to come. Abela, whose previous books include the Spyforce series and the Max Remy Superspy series, gives her characters, who are depicted in simple black-and-white line drawings, a realistic and comforting depth. Anyone who has ever experienced anxiety due to their own ambition will understand exactly how India feels, right up to the "splendiferous (excellent)" conclusion. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this charming Australian import, a shy young girl overcomes nerves, mean-spirited co-contestants and tricky vocabulary words in her aspiration to win a major spelling bee.
by Samantha Irby
Four years before her 2017 essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life was a New York Times bestseller, blogger Samantha Irby published Meaty with a small press. Vintage has had the good sense to reissue it (with a bit of inconspicuous augmentation). Meaty is another series of devastatingly frank and frankly hilarious personal essays for people who like their writers stingy with sentiment and generous with cusswords.
For Irby, food is a persistent source of both joy and gastrointestinal havoc, and her essays are bundled into four recipe-spiked sections named for meals and eating experiences. Although the essays burble along without an obvious organizing principle, the book is front-loaded with tales of Irby's bleak suburban-Chicago youth (poverty, suicide attempt, disabled mother, alcoholic father). This provides a crucial backdrop for the personal trials that she goes on successfully to mine for copy. Spurs for invective include navigating black beauty standards, being overweight and not conventionally pretty, dealing with roommates and having Crohn's disease, which threatens any pleasure that she might hope to derive from eating and sex.
It may amuse fans of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life--which finds Irby married with (step)children--that toward Meaty's end, she seems to have betrothed herself to the single life; as she puts it, "If I wanted someone to nag and yell at all the time I'd have a goddamned baby." The reader can only envy her chosen family: life with Irby can't be dull. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This augmented reissue of blogger Samantha Irby's first essay collection is a foulmouthed delight.
All That Jazz: The Life and Times of the Musical Chicago
by Ethan Mordden
Ethan Mordden (When Broadway Went to Hollywood), a prolific authority on the American musical, turns his attention to Bob Fosse's 1975 musical Chicago. The sardonic and dark Broadway production starring Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera had the misfortune of opening the same year as A Chorus Line, so it didn't win any Tony Awards and ran only two years. In 1996, the show was revived on Broadway to great acclaim as a stripped-down, minimalist production. More than two decades later, it's still running--making Chicago the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Mordden traces the show's many theater and movie incarnations: beginning with the Maurine Watkins original 1926 Broadway comedic melodrama through the Oscar-winning 2002 film adaptation starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Watkins's successful play was turned into a 1927 silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille (who removed his name from the credits because his biblical epic The King of Kings was also playing in theaters at the time, and he felt audiences wouldn't want him depicting a crime drama so soon after seeing his life of Christ). In 1942, the play was remade again as Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers. It wasn't until Fosse revived the story for his musical that the supporting character Velma Kelly became a co-lead.
Mordden is a chatty, enthusiastic and supremely knowledgeable guide. His song-by-song examination of John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical score is a master class on musical theater. All That Jazz is a treat for theater buffs. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A chatty, enthusiastic and authoritative guide to the sardonic musical Chicago, from the original 1926 play to the Bob Fosse musical and through three film adaptations.