1) Tom Adelman, The Long Ball: The Summer of ’75 — Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle, and the Greatest World Series Ever Played (Little, Brown)
Tom Adelman’s sprawling, intricate history traces the arc of the ’75 season from spring training through the thrilling agony of the improbable match-up between the juggernaut Cincinnati Reds and the eternally star-crossed Sox. It reads like a novel and is no less gripping for its pre-ordained conclusion.
2) Richard Barrios, Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall (Routledge)
A radical departure from Vito Russo’s pioneering 1982 The Culluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, Richard Barrios’s book isn’t concerned with whether images are "good for gays" as it uncovers a joyful plethora of long-forgotten films with queer plots and then offers readings that are both subtle and original. Ransacking studio archives and popular-movie and fan magazines as well as movie-star memoirs and critical works, Barrios has pieced together the most complete history yet of queer-film history and lore.
3) Jennifer Fisher, Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World (Yale University Press)
Fisher examines the perennial ballet favorite as a moneymaking cultural product with significant redeeming value. In spite of its own opportunistic timing, her study might even provide a momentary antidote to the cash-register mentality that infects the holidays. She presents The Nutcracker — first choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1892 for St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater (now home to the Kirov Ballet and Opera) — as a theme to be riffed upon as much as a masterpiece to be preserved.
4) Randall Kennedy, Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption (Pantheon)
Harvard Law professor Kennedy, author of 2002’s notorious Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (Pantheon) and an opponent of affirmative action, continues his crusade against the evils of "racial reasoning" with this comprehensive analysis of the meaning of the color line. Sifting through centuries of legal documents illuminated by examples from literature, biography, and current events, he creates an expansive history that’s a triumph.
5) Elinor Langer, A Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, the Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America (Metropolitan/Henry Holt)
Elinor Langer follows the case of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw and his murder on November 12, 1988, by a bunch of drunken skinheads in Portland, Oregon. A Portlander herself, Langer (the author of a biography of Josephine Herbst) portrays a community in a state of "moral panic," and her saga becomes a riveting chronicle of her own compulsive search for meaning. In the process, she overturns easy assumptions about the lynching of a black man and reveals the ways in which a conspiratorial web of racial hate was made to stand in for the more insidious everyday sort.
6) Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx (Scribner)
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc follows the lives of Jessica and Coco and their extended "random" families. She offers an unblinking view of poverty, portraying the people who live with its consequences in all their complexity, by turns resourceful, generous, wise, cruel, exasperating, and resilient. Although bleak, the book is also surprisingly inspirational for anyone jaded by the clichés and statistics surrounding this overlooked corner of American society.
7) Joe LeSueur, Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara: A Memoir (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
Allen Ginsberg celebrated his friend O’Hara’s "ear/for our deep gossip," and "deep gossip" is one of the attractive qualities of O’Hara’s poetry. His poems hold your attention the way gossip — meaty, juicy vitamin G — does. Deep gossip is what Joe LeSueur — O’Hara’s friend, roommate, and sometime sex partner — gives us in this memoir. And it works. To know more about O’Hara’s world — his friendships, his apartments, his love affairs, his job at the Museum of Modern Art, his drinking and writing habits — is to know more about his poems.
8) Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon)
The power and the eloquence of Marjane Satrapi’s woodcut-like images in this "comic book" memoir match her simple, understated narrative about coming of age during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Zipping along on energy, irony, and wit, Satrapi chronicles her youthful fantasy of becoming a prophet, the introduction of the veil, the imprisonment and the execution of family and friends, and war with Iraq, in the midst of a familiar modern adolescence (in one comic, touching scene, her father smuggles a Kim Wilde poster for her from Turkey). Persepolis establishes Satrapi alongside graphic-art storytellers like Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman.
9) Jeff Tamarkin, Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane (Atria Books)
Tamarkin challenges the old saw that if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there: the members of the Jefferson Airplane were there, he points out, and they remember. They’re also emblematic of the era, maybe even more so than the Grateful Dead: wildly inspired, with messy personal lives, a messy up-and-down career, messy and sprawling albums. Mixing the approach of a VH1 profile with a music geek’s overview, Tamarkin transcends Behind the Music moralizing to show how the Airplane’s excesses helped fuel the best of their genre-defying music.
10) Books on drugs
Almost everybody wants to get high, and almost everybody does, whether it’s with the jangly enthusiasm provided by morning coffee or these stress-unraveling sips of post-work alcohol. Among this year’s books that dealt well with the topic: Richard Davenport-Hines’s The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics (W.W. Norton); Stuart Walton’s Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication (Harmony Books); David Cartwright’s Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World (Harvard University Press); Patrick Dillon’s Gin: The Much-Lamented Death of Madame Geneva (Justin, Charles); Marcus Boon’s The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (Harvard University Press); and Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction, edited by Rebecca Shannonhouse (Modern Library).
Issue Date: December 26, 2003 - January 1, 2004
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