The 100 Greatest Silent Film Comedians.
By James Roots.
Oct. 2015. 464p. illus. Rowman & Littlefield, $95
(9781442236493); e-book, $94.99 (9781442236509).
Roots’ decidedly personal touch permeates his biographies cum filmographies cum
critiques of silent-film comedy stars. He boldly
arranges the entries in ranked order, from the
top star (Charlie Chaplin) through the next 99.
Frank assessments reinforce the chutzpah of
the rankings, describing last-place Cliff Bowles’
Weak Knees as “absolutely forgettable. I can’t
even remember what Bowles looks like while
he’s still on the screen.” The total of scores on
six criteria (e.g., funny, creativity, timelessness,
intangibles) applied elastically generates the
rankings. Most entries include a photo along
with a list of the comedian’s films, a biography
critiquing his or her work, no-holds-barred
capsule reviews of selected films, and a list of
those available on DVD. The critical essays
found in Richard MacCann’s The Silent Comedians (1993) offer more depth and substantial
analysis. Yet fans of the format will enjoy Roots’
sometimes quirky and consistently unabashed
assessments of talent; part of the enjoyment
may be in disagreeing. —James Rettig
25 Women: Essays on Their Art.
By Dave Hickey.
Jan. 2016. 192p. illus. Univ. of Chicago, $29
(9780226333151); e-book (9780226249148). 704.
Hickey has sizzle. A MacArthur fellow and
The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith,
a former executive editor of Art in America
and academic, he rattles cages and yanks
chains as an art writer of voracious attentive-
ness, free-spirited intelligence, invigorating
wit, vinegary candor, and a gift for literary
constructions of provoking finesse. He was
inspired to revisit and revamp his essays
about 25 women artists and their work as
a tribute to his friend, the late curator and
New Museum founder Marcia Tucker. Hick-
ey balances incisive, funny, idiosyncratic
biographical observations with all-senses-fir-
ing immersions in the art under discussion,
racing off on tangents and nailing down ar-
resting perceptions about what we expect
from art and what we receive. He revels in the
turbulent depths of painters as varied as Joan
Mitchell, Vija Celmins, Bridget Riley, Eliza-
beth Murray, and Hung Liu. Hickey offers
a rebel-cry appreciation for Lynda Benglis
and an intricate response to Alexis Smith’s
collages and guides us through the intellec-
tual puzzles posed by Sarah Charlesworth’s
photographs, Ann Williams’ installations,
and Teresita Fernandez’s sculptures. The art-
ists are significant and intriguing, Hickey’s
criticism exceptionally dynamic and enlight-
ening. —Donna Seaman
By Rainn Wilson.
Nov. 2015. 320p. Dutton, $26.95 (9780525954538). 791.
Wilson, best known for his role as intractable paper salesman Dwight K. Schrute on
the popular TV comedy The Office, shares
the ups and downs of his journey to fame in
this funny and frank memoir. The only son
of two hippies living in the Pacific North-west, Wilson was raised by his father after his
parents split. Growing up in Seattle and Nicaragua, Wilson was a nerd before nerds were
cool, embracing the bassoon, science fiction,
and Dungeons and Dragons. When Wilson
was 16, his family moved to the suburbs of
Chicago, and he discovered theater. His passion for the stage led him to New York, where
he pursued acting as a career. After years of
struggling financially and spiritually, Wilson
found his way back to the Baha’i faith he was
raised in. A friend’s project brought him to
Los Angeles, where he would go to the fateful audition for The Office. The funnyman’s
memoir will be of particular interest to aspiring actors and other creative types, as well
as the many fans of the long-running NBC
comedy. —Kristine Huntley
YA: Creative outsiders, not to mention
teen fans of The Office, will find Wilson’s
memoir particularly engaging. KH.
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves,
Scoundrels, and the History of American
By Kliph Nesteroff.
Nov. 2015. 432p. Grove/Atlantic, $28 (9780802123985);
e-book (9780802190864). 792.7.
A former stand-up comedian himself, talk-show host Nesteroff adds an extra layer of
professional insight to this absorbing and colorful history of joke tellers and their ilk from
vaudeville to the new millennium. Beginning
with stand-up comedy’s roots during the
1880s through the 1930s, when comedians
supplied laughs and pratfalls to burlesque and
vaudeville variety acts, Nesteroff paints a grim
picture of the ill treatment most performers
received during this era. Even comedy greats
such as W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers endured meager wages and many nights
in flophouses before their stars began to rise
in radio and film. Nesteroff’s chapter on radio recounts how the medium lifted some
comedians, such as Jack Benny, to superstar-dom and killed others whose stage acts didn’t
translate well to a voice-only format. Other
anecdote-filled chapters describe how stand-up comedy grew in popularity on late-night
talk shows, in comedy clubs, and on Las
Vegas stages. Must reading for entertainers
and an essential acquisition for every library
performing-arts collection. —Carl Hays
Bob Dylan: All the Songs; The Story behind Every Track.
By Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon.
2015. 704p. illus. Black Dog & Leventhal, $50 (9781579129859). 781.6.
Margotin and Guesdon team up again, after 2013’s All the Songs: The Story behind
Every Beatles Release, and give Bob Dylan the same treatment. This hefty tome catalogs
every recording released by Dylan, in chronological order of album release. Every album
gets a nice spread with narrative information about the record cover, the recording sessions, and technical details, including the instruments used. Each song entry features
the credits for the recording, a section on the genesis and lyrics of the song, and a
brief narrative on the production. There are additional entries for people important
in Dylan’s career, such as talent-scout John Hammond and folksinger Woody Guthrie. Side boxes of additional trivia (“For Dylanologists”) are posted throughout, and a
plethora of photographs fill the book. A short glossary of technical and musical terms, an index, and a bibliography round out the
work. Comprehensive and entertaining, this is a good reference
source of music trivia suitable for the circulating collections of
most public and academic libraries. It’s a must for Dylan fans and
those who enjoy folk music. —Rebecca Vnuk
Dylan: Disc by Disc.
By Jon Bream.
2015. 240p. illus. Voyager, $30 (9780760346594). 780.
Delivering on the title’s promise, this is a thought-provoking examination of each of Bob Dylan’s 36 studio albums, from 1962’s
self-titled work through 2015’s collection of Sinatra standards,
Shadows in the Night. For each record, author Bream moderated an
hour-long discussion between two commentators, which was then
transcribed and edited for this volume. Those panelists included
musicians, academics, DJs, and critics. Thorough album introductions, liner notes, and plenty of photos round out the package,
coalescing into a final product that can be thumbed through repeatedly as easily as read cover-to-cover. A gorgeously rendered,
giftworthy book with a unique spin on the discography, recommended for public and academic libraries alike. —Genevieve Grove
ESSENTIAL BOB DYLAN