Shelf Awareness for Thursday, September 22, 2022


Sharjah Book Authority: Publisher's Conference

John Scognamiglio Book: In the Time of Our History by Susanne Pari

Candlewick Press (MA): Better Than We Found It: Conversations to Help Save the World by Frederick Joseph and Porsche Joseph

Parallax Press: How to Live: The Essential Mindfulness Journal (Mindfulness Essentials) by Thich Nhat Hanh, illustrated by Jason Deantonis

Shadow Mountain: Delicious Gatherings: Recipes to Celebrate Together by Tara Teaspoon

Berkley Books: The Last Russian Doll by Kristen Loesch

Charlesbridge Publishing: Too-Small Tyson (Storytelling Math) by Janay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Anastasia Williams

MIT Press: Rethinking Gender: An Illustrated Exploration by Louie Läuger

News

NEIBA Fall Conference: Kwame Alexander and Jeff Kinney

The New England Independent Booksellers Association's FallCon began Wednesday morning in Providence, R.I., with an opening keynote featuring Kwame Alexander, author of The Door of No Return (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), in conversation with Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid series (Abrams) and owner of An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass.

"Describing this opening keynote as a blockbuster might be underselling," said NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson. Kinney started the interview by reminding Alexander that he is personally a "six-time Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award winner." "I appreciate that," Alexander replied. "How many Newberys have you won?" The friends followed this exchange by telling stories that showed their lovingly antagonistic relationship: "One time he asked me to blurb a book for him," Kinney recalled. Kinney gave one or two "legitimate blurbs" and then "about seven insults. [Alexander] put all of them on the back of his book." When Kinney was invited to do this interview, he suggested to Alexander that they do their own version of Zach Galifianakis's Between Two Ferns. "Maybe read the book first," Alexander responded.

Kwame Alexander (l.) and Jeff Kinney

Kinney asked Alexander about his motivation for writing The Door of No Return. Alexander has traveled to Ghana 11 times since 2012. One of those times he was sitting and "shooting the breeze" with a local man. Alexander wanted to find common ground for a discussion and believed slavery was what the two men had in common. The man said, "We learned that all the bad people got taken away.... Do you listen to Kanye West?" "Here I am," Alexander said, "trying to have this serious discussion, and he's trying to have a normal conversation. It occurred to me, maybe this isn't our connection." That's when Alexander decided, "I've got to write a book about these experiences I'm having in Ghana that can showcase the fact that 1619 isn't our beginning. It's our middle.... I'm going to write a story about a kid in Ghana who is just living his life." Why Ghana? Well, "A friend of mine [from Detroit] became the queen mother of a village." The friend invited Alexander to document some of her time--it felt like "a homecoming." "Most Black people... don't know where we're from."

"I had never heard of the 'door of no return,' " Kinney said, until he read about it in a memoir. "Have you been?" Yes, Alexander said, he had visited Cape Coast and Elmina, both of which have doors of no return. "Europeans built castles that were essentially holding cells," Alexander said. "The first time I visited, they take you on a tour of this holding cell, the prison. Where they kept the men, right above ground was a church where the captors worshipped. I thought, wow. The audacity. The inhumanity of that." Alexander's goal for The Door of No Return was to not focus on the cell, the audacity, the door, but to "write from that space." And to "write something [his 14-year-old daughter] can read and not be devastated. How do you write this story and have fun with it and leave with a feeling of hope?"

Reading the book "was a draining experience," Kinney noted. There's a lot of balance but also a feeling of dread "because you know where it's going." "No," Alexander quickly replied, "You don't. I traffic in writing about hope.... It took maybe four or five years of brainstorming and rewriting to actually write this book. It's the hardest thing I've ever written." "I have pictures in my books," Kinney pointed out, "it makes them more entertaining." "You call those pictures?" Alexander asked.

Kinney noted, "In the past two years, we've had a shocking amount of book bans. Some of the books being banned are so innocuous it feels like a practical joke." Are you thinking about that when you write? "Absolutely not," Alexander replied. "I try not to be defined by people's limited imaginations. As Toni Morrison said, the real purpose of racism is to distract us. I don't want to be distracted." What Alexander is working toward, he explained, is showcasing "our capacity to change the world one word at a time."

A member of the audience asked Alexander what he would like readers to ask themselves as they read the book. He said, "My dad was a bookseller. You all are my people. Here's my ask: I want you all to talk about this book not in a way where we make it about slavery. 'Cause that's not what it's about. I want you all to really do some work to remember that this book is about a boy who... is going about his life until it's interrupted." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness


Camcat Books: Armadas in the Mist: Volume 3 (The Empire of the House of Thorns) by Christian Klaver


More #BannedBooksWeek: 'What Book Got You Through the Teen Angst?'

Banned Books Week is underway, and indie booksellers nationwide are posting photos, book picks and opinions on their social media channels. We're sharing a selection of them with you, including:

Watermark Books & Café, Wichita, Kan.: "You are probably as confounded as I am about book banning. Books are powerful. I love the moment when I finish a book and let it soak in. A pause for reflection. Sometimes books blow my mind. Sometimes they make me angry and scared. Or force me to rethink an opinion. Sometimes I even give that book a hug.... Watermark Books & Cafe is joining other bookstore and libraries to advocate for the freedom to read by participating in Banned Books Week." --Sarah Bagby, owner. 

Charis Books and More, Decatur, Ga.: "Teenage dirtbags who read #bannedbooks grow up to be booksellers! What book got you through the teen angst??"

Read Between the Lynes, Woodstock, Ill.: "Friends, we're a couple of days into Banned Books Week, and we're so grateful for your response in our chats with you both in-store and on social media. We are also very thankful for your donations of banned books to D200 Woodstock students."

Firefly Bookstore, Kutztown, Pa.: "Friends! It is Banned Book Week! We love all kinds of books here at Firefly, especially the 'banned' titles. In honor of Banned Book Week, we will be giving a stack of 10 current-and-classic banned books to someone who can figure out the banned title we've selected based on a redacted excerpt. Stop on in between now and Monday, 9/26, to give it your best guess!"

A Novel Escape, Franklin, N.C.: "It's Banned Books Week! Can you guess what book is hiding under the paper bag? This one is banned for being 'sexually offensive' and 'real downer.' Put your answer in the comments! We'll reveal the answer in stories later today!"

Phoenix Books, Essex & Burlington, Vt.: "Happy #BannedBooksWeek. 'Every reader deserves to see themselves in a book'--this is the message we have in our window at the Essex location in honor of Banned Books Week. The lettering in the window, hand drawn by one of our lovely booksellers, Caroline, is inspired by the ALA slogan and the book, Attack of the Black Rectangles by A.S. King."

Pagination Bookshop, Springfield, Mo.: "Every book in this post, at some point or another, has been banned. This week at Pagination, we are celebrating Banned Books. We believe that sometimes the most challenging reads are the most necessary.... We will be doing our part to put these books into the hands of readers, and we welcome your input not only this week, but all the time, to help us find the stories, and the voices, that are in danger of being silenced."

2 Dandelions Bookshop, Brighton, Mich.: "Have you seen our display of banned and challenged books? These are just a small sampling of banned books that we have in stock!  Want one that you can't see?  We are happy to bring it in for you! Our comfy green chair is available for banned book reading all week (or whenever!)--we invite you to read a new one or an old favorite!"

Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, N.Y.: "Frodo [left] thinks banning books is so dumb it's beneath his notice, and he's not wrong. BUT we want you to take notice this #bannedbooksweek. Stop in to browse some of the most banned books of the last few years."

Main Point Books, Wayne, Pa.: "It's #bannedbooksweek and this year it is more important than ever to pay attention and vote in local elections! Want to learn more and have fun? Join us @teresas_wayne on Saturday, September 24, 1-4 p.m. for a #boozybannedbookfair." 

Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, Ky.: "We have #BannedBooksWeek displays featuring some of the most commonly challenged and banned books in the country. And know that these books make up only a small portion of the many books that people have tried to pull from libraries and classrooms. At both the Bardstown Rd. and Frankfort Ave. locations, you'll find an invite for you to take a photo with a favorite banned book and a handmade sign that says 'Apprehended Reading Banned Books.' " 

Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, Calif.: "Our booksellers at Mysterious Galaxy celebrate the freedom to read what we want. We celebrate books of diversity and representation all year long, but this week is most important to advocate our voice and uplift those who cannot do the same.... Fight Evil, Read Books!"


She Writes Press: Canaries Among Us: A Mother's Quest to Honor Her Child's Individuality in a Culture Determined to Negate It by Kayla Taylor


Varsity Bookstore in Lubbock, Tex., to Close After 88 Years

Varsity Bookstore, which "has been a major part of Texas Tech and its students' lives since 1934" as the "go-to place to get textbooks, TTU merch, graduation regalia, and more," will close by the end of the year, KFYO reported. The announcement was made on the company's social media platforms.

The news surprised fans on social media, but the Avalanche-Journal noted the store explained in a message that e-books and longtime supply chain issues had led to the decision: "After Covid, buying habits changed rapidly. Publishers are pushing e-books and direct downloads. Supply chain has been a huge issue in getting products and material in time. We appreciate all of our loyal customers since Varsity Bookstore first opened in 1934."


CamCat Publishing: The Darker the Skies (Earth United) by Bryan Prosek


Zibby Books Launches Zibby Mag

Zibby Books, founded by Zibby Owens and Leigh Newman last year as a part of Zibby Owens Media, has launched a literary lifestyle magazine called Zibby Mag, which aims to "highlight the old-school glamour of the publishing world and connect readers to authors in a star-studded way."

A weekly online publication that may have a printed version in the future, Zibby Mag includes many features about authors, new releases, book deals, TV/film adaptations, awards and will cover book-related events and have book excerpts, cover reveals, and book reviews. Zibby Mag will also include personal essays by authors and writers of all types that "will make readers think, feel, laugh/cry, and connect."

Zibby Mag will also promote online and in-person classes, an online writing community, Zibby's Viirtual Book Club, and in-person events/retreats.

To see the first issue of Zibby Mag, click here.

Zibby Books is publishing a dozen books a year and focusing on fiction and memoir from both debut and established authors, with a commitment to diverse literary voices. The first Zibby Books titles will be released in early 2023; Zibby Books will be distributed by Ingram's Two Rivers.


Barefoot Books: Save 10%


A Celebration of the Life of Joan Didion

Joan Didion
(photo: Jerry Bauer)

"Joan was very specific about the texts she wanted read," the Very Rev. Patrick Malloy said of the private service held in April for Joan Didion at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. She died in December 2021, and her remains are interred in the Cathedral, along with those of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael. Didion selected readings from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, "with the Elizabethan language still intact," Malloy explained. "Rhythms and sounds of words are important; the pattern of words conveys things beyond our ken."

The specificity of language, memories, moments also wove their way through last night's public celebration of Didion's life, held at the Cathedral Wednesday night. Shelley Wanger, senior editor at Penguin Random House, recalled Didion's "penetrating gaze" and described her as "part sage, part prophet." New Yorker editor David Remnick described Didion as employing "her exacto knife that was her prose." Author and New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino spoke of Didion's "clairvoyant dissembling of overprecious myth," and author and New Yorker writer and theater critic Hilton Als said, "Joan taught me that family was always part of the story along with place, and how the writer's job was to face the terror, beauty, banality and truth inherent in being a citizen of both."

Griffin Dunne, Didion's nephew and the director of Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017), recounted an embarrassing moment from his childhood, in which everyone laughed at him but Joan. He thought, "Here was a woman who'd never be swayed by public opinion."

Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy knew Didion through his sister Nancy; they were high school best friends. He recalled that even then Didion was teaching him by example to be "more free from hidden bias, more free from self-interest, and more free from mistaken assumptions that obscure facts." Jerry Brown, former governor of California, who also met Didion through his sister, read with admiration her description in the essay "Many Mansions" of the Sacramento house the Reagans were constructing (and which ceased construction in 1975) to live in while governing the state: "It is simply and rather astonishingly an enlarged version of a very common kind of California tract house... as devoid of privacy or personal eccentricity as the lobby area in a Ramada Inn." Author Calvin Trillin read from "Insider Baseball," in which Didion's words from 1988 eerily presage the present state of politics.

Poet Kevin Young said he was struck by how much poetry Didion included in The Year of Magical Thinking, and also by her description, "Grief has no distance." He read from his own poem "The Mission," which Young said he wrote while living across from a funeral home in San Francisco, shortly after he discovered Didion's writing. He closed with Yeats's "The Second Coming," from which Didion derived the title of her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Patti Smith sang Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom," accompanied by Tony Shanahan on guitar, and Alexi Kenney played violin.

Actress Susan Traylor, Quintana's best friend, brought the audience inside a celebration for Quintana's seventh birthday, for which Didion prepared individual chocolate soufflés for all the children. Traylor described John Dunne's chiding of Didion, almost as ritual, when Susan and Quintana gathered, and Didion's reply: "I didn't know how to make birthday cake; I knew how to make chocolate soufflés."

Writer Susanna Moore took us inside her friendship with Didion: "Her silence was a refuge I often preferred to conversation." This set the stage for pithy observations of Didion's that Moore has carried with her, one in response to an anecdote about Bianca Jagger: "Evil is the absence of seriousness," and another after Moore attempted to defend the erratic behavior of someone else: "Crazy is never interesting." When someone suggested to Moore they thought Didion had based her novel Democracy on Moore's family, Moore asked her about it. The next day, Didion suggested, "I would drop this whole idea of knowing the truth."

Vanessa Redgrave, who played Didion on Broadway in the theatrical presentation of The Year of Magical Thinking, said Didion was present at every performance, including the U.K. tour and the play's opening in London; she would eat dinner at a small café table offstage "in the wings." Redgrave repeated this phrase for emphasis, "in the wings," then paused as she looked up into the cavernous Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and said, "And there's that rose window." --Jennifer M. Brown


Candlewick Press (MA): The Real Dada Mother Goose: A Treasury of Complete Nonsense by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Julia Rothman


Notes

Cool Idea of the Day: Special Banned Books Week Donation in Texas

"During this #BannedBookWeek, it's come to our attention that some school libraries in town have refused to add the award-winning and @txlas_1902 Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by @caroleweatherford to their collections," Nowhere Bookshop, San Antonio, Tex., posted on Instagram. "One @northeastisd elementary library went so far as to censor the book from a list of Bluebonnet Award finalists provided to students claiming they did so because the book was not in the library. We offered to donate two copies to the library and the library declined. 

"This picture book tells the history of the Black community of Greenwood and the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, a story that has been obscured from history for the past 100 years. We believe elementary students here in San Antonio need access to this important work and we'd like to see this book in as many elementary school classrooms as possible. 

"So, we're donating up to 250 copies of Unspeakable by @caroleweatherford to educators in our local school districts. If you want a copy for your classroom, just fill out the form linked in our bio and we will contact you when your free book is ready for pickup at our store. A special thank you to all of our local educators who believe books should challenge you and change you."


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Jasmine Guillory on Today

Tomorrow:
Today Show: Jasmine Guillory, author of Drunk on Love (Berkley, $27, 9780593100875).

Late Night with Seth Meyers repeat: Megan Giddings, author of The Women Could Fly: A Novel (Amistad, $26.99, 9780063116993).


This Weekend on Book TV: The Mississippi Book Festival

Book TV airs on C-Span 2 this weekend from 8 a.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Monday and focuses on political and historical books as well as the book industry. The following are highlights for this coming weekend. For more information, go to Book TV's website.

Saturday, September 24
12 p.m. Friederike Baer, author of Hessians: German Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War (‎Oxford University Press, $74, 9780190249632). (Re-airs Sunday at 12 a.m.)

6:10 p.m. David Adams Cleveland, author of Gods of Deception (‎Greenleaf Book Group, $33.95, 9781626349186). (Re-airs Sunday at 6:10 a.m.)

7:05 p.m. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, author of Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality (Pantheon, $30, 9781524747183). (Re-airs Sunday at 7:05 a.m.)

Sunday, September 25
8:20 a.m. Mark Leibovich, author of Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission (Penguin Press, $29, 9780593296318). (Re-airs Sunday at 8:20 p.m.)

9:45 a.m. Stephen Kent, author of How the Force Can Fix the World: Lessons on Life, Liberty, and Happiness from a Galaxy Far, Far Away (‎Center Street, $28, 9781546000464). (Re-airs Sunday at 9:45 p.m.)

10 a.m. Sen. Patrick Leahy, author of The Road Taken: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781982157357). (Re-airs Sunday at 10 p.m.)

2 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. Coverage of the Mississippi Book Festival, which took place last month in Jackson, Miss. Highlights include:

  • 2 p.m. David Dennis, David Dennis Jr. and Leslie-Burl McLemore discuss the civil rights movement.
  • 3 p.m. Imani Perry, Eddie Glaude and James Kirchick discuss reshaping public discourse.
  • 4 p.m. Tom Clavin, James Scott and Kevin Maurer discuss World War II aviation warfare.
  • 4:55 p.m. Jeff Guinn, Brian Castner and Rinker Buck discuss American history.
  • 5:57 p.m. Eric Jay Dolin, Ben Raines and Tom Clavin discuss American naval history.
  • 7 p.m. Jonathan Martin, Stephen Hayes and David Drucker discuss the state of political journalism in America.


Books & Authors

Awards: PEN Presents Translators Shortlist

English PEN has released the first shortlist for PEN Presents, the new award for sample translations that "aims to fund literary translators' work of creating samples, give publishers better access to titles from underrepresented languages and regions, and help diversify the translated literature landscape." 

The 12 shortlisted translators have been awarded grants to create 5,000-word samples. Winners of the first round of PEN Presents will be named at the end of October. The program will open for proposals of works in any language and from any region in January 2023. Check out the complete PEN Presents shortlist here.

The finalists represent seven of the languages of India and include novels, short stories and memoir. Six samples will be chosen by the PEN Presents selection panel--seven experts from the U.K. and India--to be showcased in an issue on the PEN Presents platform, "an online catalogue of the most outstanding, original and bibliodiverse literature not yet published in English translation." They will also be given editorial support from English PEN and promoted to U.K. publishers.

"Selected from an extraordinarily large and strong set of proposals, this shortlist represents a remarkable breadth of outstanding Indian literature not yet published in English translation," said Will Forrester, translation and international manager at English PEN. "We are delighted that these 12 translators, authors and works cover such a range of languages, geographies and themes, and I am particularly thrilled by the number and quality of works by Dalit writers represented. This shortlist is a testament to the vitality of Indian literature in Indian languages, the urgent possibility of fostering their translation into English, and the talented community of literary translators who are poised to do so."

Preti Taneja, co-chair of English PEN's translation advisory group, commented: "From epic to memoir, novels to short stories, the quality of these shortlisted pitches testifies to the range and ambition of extraordinary writers and translators working across India and the diaspora today. We look forward to reading the samples, and to championing these works as they make their way to publishers and ultimately into readers' hands."


Attainment: New Titles Out Next Week

Selected new titles appearing next Tuesday, September 27:

Treasure State: A Cassie Dewell Novel by C.J. Box (Minotaur, $28.99, 9781250766960) is the sixth mystery with private investigator Cassie Dewell.

Next in Line by Jeffrey Archer (HarperCollins, $28.99, 9780008526184) is a mystery involving the royal family set in 1988 London.

Falling Stars by Fern Michaels (Kensington, $27, 9781496737151) is a Christmas-themed romance.

Christmas Scarf Murder by Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day and Peggy Ehrhart (Kensington, $26, 9781496737229) collects three holiday mysteries.

Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx (Scribner, $26.99, 9781982173357) unearths often overlooked ecosystems.

Killing the Legends: The Lethal Danger of Celebrity by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (St. Martin's Press, $30, 9781250283306) explores the deaths of Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Muhammad Ali.

Live Wire: Long-Winded Short Stories by Kelly Ripa (Dey Street, $28.99, 9780063073302) is the memoir of the talk show host.

The Adventures of Qai Qai by Serena Williams, illus. by Yesenia Moises (Feiwel and Friends, $18.99, 9781250831408) is the tennis superstar's first picture book.

The Little Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, illus. by Rafael López (Crown, $18.99, 9780593484234) is a picture book adaptation of the adult title The Book of Joy.

Paperbacks:
Believing: Our Thirty-Year Journey to End Gender Violence by Anita Hill (Penguin Books, $18, 9780593298312).

Flying Angels: A Novel by Danielle Steel (Dell, $8.99, 9781984821577).

Dear Santa: A Novel by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine, $8.99, 9781984818836).

The Morning Star: A Novel by Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. by Martin Aitken (Penguin Books, $19, 9780399563447).


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcover
The Two Lives of Sara: A Novel by Catherine Adel West (Park Row, $27.99, 9780778333227). "A beautifully written, complex story of motherhood, found family, grief, reinvention, and redemption. West captures the challenges of fleeing a difficult past and explores profound questions about racial justice in the Jim Crow South." --Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, Mass.

Ithaca by Claire North (Redhook, $28, 9780316422963). "Rich with detail and compelling characters, this gorgeously written novel left me brimming with warmth and courage. The often-misunderstood Hera provides a perfect lens for a faithful, unique, and satisfying retelling of a beloved story." --Julie Goodrich, Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa

Paperback
The Lost Girls of Willowbrook: A Novel by Ellen Marie Wiseman (Kensington, $16.95, 9781496715883). "Based on the horrible truth of the Willowbrook State School, Wiseman tells a powerful story of sisters and the true strength of family. An emotional ride that speaks to real historic events and the cruelty in institutions like Willowbrook." --Mia D'Alessandro, Thunder Road Books, Spring Lake, N.J.

For Ages 4 to 8
Patchwork by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Corinna Luyken (Putnam, $18.99, 9781984813961). "The artwork in this book is bright, colorful, and evokes joy. A beautifully written reminder that we can be many things. We are more 'than a single note...we are a symphony.' This book is great for first time parents or a teacher's library." --Keeshia Jacklitch, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, N.C.

For Ages 8 to 12
Eden's Everdark by Karen Strong (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 9781665904476). "Eden's Everdark is a Southern Gothic whose rich history, imaginative adventure, creepy imagery, and big heart will appeal to a variety of readers. It's a dark and haunting adventure story infused with a light and hope that shines bright." --Julia Caudle, An Unlikely Story, Plainville, Mass.

For Teen Readers
All of Our Demise (All of Us Villains #2) by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman  (Tor Teen, $18.99, 9781250789341). "Wow. That's all that I could muster when I finished this book. A true page-turner full of the biggest amount of twists and knives-to-your-gut I've ever read. It's dark and twisted and gripping, and completely flabbergasting." --Valeria Salas Ibarra, Front Street Books, Alpine, Tex.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

Review: Transformer: A Story of Glitter, Glam Rock, and Loving Lou Reed

Transformer: A Story of Glitter, Glam Rock, and Loving Lou Reed by Simon Doonan (HarperOne, $24.99 hardcover, 160p., 9780063259515, November 8, 2022)

Glam rock, which first sashayed onstage in the early 1970s, rebuked rock music's customary machismo, and no album did the job better than former Velvet Underground front man Lou Reed's second solo effort, 1972's Transformer. On the occasion of the record's 50th anniversary, the perceptive and consummately witty Simon Doonan (Beautiful People; Drag: The Complete Story) presents Transformer: A Story of Glitter, Glam Rock, and Loving Lou Reed, in which he asks the musical question, "How did Lou become the guy who decided to fill the LGBTQ+ void and skew an entire album toward me and my cohort?" 

To answer the question, Doonan double-tracks his own story with that of Reed's trailblazing album. Doonan was born in England in 1952; after he came of age, he didn't fully see himself reflected in rock music until he encountered Transformer, whose "Walk on the Wild Side" was a veritable roll call of real-life challengers to heteronormativity. The song was just one of the album's salutes to gender noncompliance. Doonan reports that Reed explained his intentions with the record a few years later: "I thought it was dreary for gay people to have to listen to straight people's love songs."

For Doonan and his friends, Transformer was "like a giant gold and black piñata.... Out poured kink, poetry, glamour, trash, drag queens, hustlers, dope, genius, originality, and--drumroll--validation, confirmation, and encouragement for a broad swath of young people who were figuring out how to be themselves." While Reed had a series of wives--he was married to artist Laurie Anderson at the time of his death in 2013--he had a transgender girlfriend in the late 1970s, bolstering Doonan's claim that Reed's "fluidity and his gay solidarity--wildly at odds with midcentury America--aligns him more with today's youth, who embrace pansexuality and queerness with casual élan."

Doonan's book builds to a song-by-song anatomization of Transformer. He's a fount of swashbuckling hyperbole, and hardly a sentence wouldn't work as a pull quote. Of the track "Perfect Day," Doonan writes, "Lou's lyrics do not specify gender, allowing us gays to see ourselves, guzzling sangria and chucking nuts at the Central Park squirrels with the best of them." Of "Andy's Chest," an homage to Warhol, friend and mentor to Reed, Doonan writes, "The subtext in the mood of this song is clear: Being groovy will not save you." But Lou Reed's Transformer might. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: The perceptive and consummately witty Simon Doonan toasts Lou Reed's Transformer on the occasion of the classic album's 50th anniversary.


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