Between Them: Remembering My
By Richard Ford.
May 2017. 192p. illus. Ecco, $25.99 (9780062661883).
Clearly Ford (Let Me Be Frank with You,
2014) has always been inquisitive and observant. Otherwise how could this renowned
fiction writer, winner of a Carnegie and a Pulitzer, summon up such arrestingly precise details
in his first work of nonfiction, an exquisitely
sensitive double portrait of his parents and
memoir about being a “late
child and an only child”?
Ford illuminates the hardscrabble Arkansas childhoods
of Parker and Edna, their
1928 marriage, and the renegade pleasure they took in
living on the road as smart,
pretty, “lively and watchful”
Edna accompanied Parker, a large, shy, likable
man with a “warm, hesitant smile” on his route
selling laundry starch throughout seven southern states. This happily itinerant existence
“with no great cares” lasted until Ford arrived
in 1944. His parents finally established a permanent home in Jackson, Mississippi, where
mother and son stayed alone all week, growing extremely close, while Parker called on
far-flung customers, maintaining an increasingly grueling routine. Ford was 16 when his
father’s heart gave out, forcing Ford to “grow
up in a hurry” as his resilient mother became
the wage earner. Illustrated with family photographs, Ford’s remembrance of his parents
is a masterful distillation of sensuous description, psychological intricacy, social insights,
and a keen sense of place. Ford’s reflections
are bright with wit, edgy with candor, and lustrous with extraordinary poignancy and love.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A major
campaign for this very special, widely
appealing book will pave the way for an
eight-city author tour and extensive multimedia coverage.
Change of Seasons.
By John Oates and Chris Epting.
Apr. 2017. 400p. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (9781250082657);
e-book, $14.99 (9781250082664). 782.4216.
In the early 1990s, just after Hall and
Oates faded from ubiquity, Oates found himself in Tokyo, staring into
the mirror of a hotel bathroom, shaving off his iconic
mustache. “[No] one will
understand how much that
mustache affected my life,”
he writes. “I resented it.”
Seasoned readers of celebrity
memoirs might expect to
learn precisely what effluvia and intoxicants
befouled those accursed hairs. But Oates’ foray
into the genre is remarkably discreet. Unnamed women flicker through the book, and
Oates only hints at the venal excess expected
of ’80s MTV stars. Whereas Keith Richards,
in Life (2010), takes great pleasure in snarking
on Mick “Princess” Jagger, Oates avoids saying anything unflattering about Daryl Hall.
In the absence of grisly details or petty complaints, Oates has, with Epting’s help, written
an exceedingly entertaining, somewhat rueful
chronicle of his life, from an Italian-American
childhood eating meatballs in the basement to
late-middle age in a tony Aspen enclave. He
spent the ’70s and ’80s as a tiny, mustachioed
Zelig, flitting about the Boomer demimonde.
Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, David Bowie,
Lou Reed, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, and
Edgar Winter all make appearances—in airports, recording studios, arenas, and, in the
case of George Harrison, a 120-room Gothic
castle, complete with a miniature replica of
the Matterhorn. —Eugenia Williamson
Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.
By Megan Marshall.
Feb. 2017. 368p. illus. HMH, $30 (9780544617308). 811.54.
Pulitzer Prize winner Marshall (Margaret
Fuller, 2014) presents an enlightening look
into the life of the private, meticulous poet
who wrote such perfectly polished poems as
“The Fish” and “A Map of the World” in this
hybrid biography-memoir. Though Marshall
interleaves brief chapters about her time with
Bishop and such key players as Robert Lowell,
Bishop’s story can’t help but prove far more
engaging. From Marianne Moore’s mentoring to her soulful friendship with Lowell, we
glimpse Bishop’s literary influences and gain
better understanding of the ways writers of
the time nurtured and challenged one another to innovate. Thanks to recently discovered
correspondence with Bishop’s psychiatrist and
lovers, we glimpse sources of her loneliness
and constant search for “home.” Her childhood losses and emotional abandonment no
doubt played a role in the somewhat parental relationships she had with some strong,
artistic, self-sufficient women. Yet her clinging to the feeling of being “in love” seemed
often to dampen her artistic drive. A biography of Bishop is long overdue, and Marshall
illuminates the poet’s life with fascinating and
inspiring details and insights. —Janet St. John
The Hello Girls: America’s First Women
By Elizabeth Cobbs.
Apr. 2017. 380p. illus. Harvard, $29.95
The Hello Girls were an intrepid group of
223 women sent to France in 1918 by the
U.S. Army Signal Corps to serve as switchboard operators at the request of General
John Pershing, commander of the American
Expeditionary Forces. As “wire experts,” their
job was to facilitate communication between
the army’s command and the Allies and frontline troops. On the home front, the battle for
women’s suffrage was still raging and would
not be won until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, in 1920. That year, the
Hello Girls were dismissed from army service without veterans’ benefits, although they
had taken the army oath, worn uniforms,
and lived in military accommodations. They
fought to be compensated for 60 years. Historian Cobbs creates a multilayered account of
American political and social life in the early
twentieth century, enriched by her use of personal accounts and other primary sources.
Cobbs shines a spotlight on the unique contributions of a group of remarkable American
women, in the spirit of Hidden Figures (2016),
in a book that belongs in every American-his-tory collection. —Carolyn Mulac
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His
Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing.
By Damion Searls.
Feb. 2017. 416p. Crown, $28 (9780804136549).
Searls portrays Hermann Rorschach
(1884–1922) as a man of great accomplish-
ment and greatly unfulfilled potential due to
his untimely death, at 37. He made a consid-
erable contribution to the then-burgeoning
field of psychoanalysis with his soon-to-be
ubiquitous inkblots: 10 symmetrical amor-
phous shapes utilized as a tool to delve into
a person’s subconscious mind. Used for ev-
erything from party games to attempting to
establish whether there is such a thing as a
“Nazi mind,” the Rorschach test has endured
for nearly a century, even as it drifts in and
out of favor within the psychoanalytic com-
munity due to an ongoing debate over how
the patient’s responses should be interpreted.
Very little has previously been known about
Rorschach’s private life; Searls now fills in
many blanks, drawing a more rounded
portrait of the Swiss psychiatrist. From his
parents’ money and health problems to his
school nickname, Klex, from klexen, mean-
ing to dabble in painting, to his decision to
follow science rather than art, through to
his marriage, illness, and death, Rorschach’s
genius is apparent, and his famous inkblots
ever fascinating. —Donna Chavez
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