Why not toss some of your holiday gift budget toward a visual journalist who might be selling just what you need for that special someone on your list?
Today’s topic: Nonfiction books…
WRITERS GONE WILD
My former colleague and still good friend Bill Peschel is an author and book reviewer based in Hershey, Pa.
He’s also the author of a couple of very unusual, very fun books that would make great gifts for anyone on your list who’s a bookworm-type.
Bill’s first book — Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature’s Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes — was released in 2010.
Note the cover illustration by frequent New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt.
This is a collection of brief tales of authors, novelists, poets and journalists and some of the crazy, unbelievable and just plain ol’ weird stuff they’ve done over the years.
From a Q&A I did with Bill when the book was published:
Q. I’ve always thought of writers as an honorable professionals — that novelists, poets and journalists represent some of the best, most articulate minds of their times. But many of the tales you bring us show us writers who have engaged in plagiarism, theft, fisticuffs, sexual deviancy — all sorts of shenanigans. Was my mental picture of these folks just completely out of order, or what?
A. Why can’t degenerates be great artists too? Writers draw on their experiences, so it makes sense that the ones who live the more extreme lives have the deepest well to draw from.
That doesn’t mean that they will have great stories to tell, or will remain healthy long enough to tell them well. William Faulkner was a great artist in spite of his alcoholism — which left him so debilitated that he suffered from the DTs and had to brace his hand against the wall so he could pour his morning drink — not because of it. It’s known that Eugene O’Neill’s greatest plays came after he gave up drinking.
Researching Writers Gone Wild also cured me of the pretty notion that art can Improve Your Life. True, it can widen your horizon and make you see the world in a new way, but only if you’re already open to that notion. Art is full of great works created by unhappy bastards — Ernest Hemingway, John O’Hara, Picasso, Jean Rhys — and it didn’t improve their lives one bit.
Q. Likewise, your book contains a number of stories of unsavory journalistic practices: Newspaper articles that were hoaxes, critics who took cash for good reviews. I knew journalism didn’t always have the high ethics that most of us strive to have today. But good grief, was it really THAT bad?
A. We’ll never know, will we? We only find out about the scandals that were exposed, such as the newspaper hoaxes, the fake reviews or the “pay for play” stories such as Alexander Woollcott taking money to pump Faulkner’s Sanctuary on his radio show.
Remember that, at one time, journalism was a disreputable profession. No one with a college degree would have been caught dead in the newsroom. Now, it’s practically a requirement.
This is a fun, fun read. And what’s more, the book appears to be really cheap at the moment. Pick up copies for folks on your list and make sure you get an extra for yourself.
A year later, Bill came out with The Complete, Annotated Whose Body?
Here’s the official blurb:
When church architect Mr. Thipps finds a naked man in his Battersea bathroom, Lord Peter Wimsey is on the case! The aristocratic amateur detective, accompanied by his camera-bearing manservant Bunter, follows a trail of blood as he pursues stock market manipulation, medical malpractice and Lord Brocklebury’s edition of Dante.
But the curious case of the bathing body turns darker and deadlier as Lord Peter uncovers a ghastly crime.
Published in 1923, “Whose Body?” was Dorothy L. Sayer‘s debut novel, and Bill Peschel has provided hundreds of notes to guide the reader through Lord Peter’s world, describing words, objects and ideas that were familiar to Sayers’ readers but might be obscure or unknown today.
Find Whose Body? here.
A 1982 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Bill worked at small- and medium-sized newspapers, including 11 years at the Herald of Rock Hill, S.C., where he was forced to edit huge heaping mounds of my work. I even wrote a handful of book reviews for the poor guy.
He joined the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., in 2000. He spent 12 years there as a copy editor and page designer until Advance Publications downsized their Harrisburg operation last year.
Find Bill’s web site here and his blog here. Find his Twitter feed here.
MUSIC BIOGRAPHIES BY PETER AMES CARLIN
If you have a music lover on your holiday shopping list, you’re in luck: I have a number of suggestions for you.
My pal Peter Ames Carlin — formerly of People magazine and then the Portland Oregonian — has written exhaustive biographies of three iconic musicians of the rock era.
In 2006, Peter wrote perhaps the definitive biography of the brain behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson.
From the official blurb:
Peter Ames Carlin, who conducted in-depth, exclusive interviews with dozens of sources and listened to hundreds of hours of unreleased studio recordings and live music, tells a uniquely American story of the band, the music, and the culture the Beach Boys both sang about and helped create.
Carlin brings a fan’s passion, a seasoned journalist’s objectivity, and a cultural critic’s insight to his subject, and the result is a magesterial and authoritative account of the Beach Boys’ visionary figure, who has emerged into a new era of creativity.
Find the book here.
In 2009, Peter followed that work with a biography of Paul McCartney.
Carlin presents McCartney as a musical visionary but also as a layered and conflicted figure as haunted by his own legacy—and particularly his relationship with John Lennon—as he was inspired by it. Built on years of research and fresh, revealing interviews with friends, bandmates, and collaborators spanning McCartney’s entire life, Carlin’s lively biography captures the many faces of the living legend.
Buy it here.
I own autographed copies of both of those books and I recommend them wholeheartedly. I must admit, however, I don’t yet have Peter’s latest major music biography. His book about the Boss came out last year:
Here’s the blurb:
Built from years of research and unparalleled access to its subject and his inner circle, Bruce presents the most revealing account yet of a man laden with family tragedy, a tremendous dedication to his artistry, and an all-consuming passion for fame and influence. With this book, the E Street Band members finally bare their feelings about their abrupt dismissal in 1989, and how Bruce Springsteen’s ambivalence nearly capsized their 1999 reunion. Carlin deftly traces Springsteen’s often harrowing personal life: from his lower working- class childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, through his stubborn climb to fame and tangled romantic life, and finally to his quest to conquer the demons that nearly destroyed his father.
Find it here.
A 1985 graduate of Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, Peter had previously worked as a senior writer for People magazine. He spent 11 years as a TV columnist and then a “roving cultural reporter” for the Portland Oregonian before leaving to go freelance in 2011. He’s been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Men’s Journal.
Find Peter’s web site here, his blog here, his Facebook fan page here and his Twitter feed here.
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
In 2003, longtime Des Moines Register staffer Larry Lehmer wrote the definitive book about the famous plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, that claimed the lives of music icons Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
After two decades of research, Iowa journalist Lehmer has assembled a sometimes lively, often obsessively trivial history of the tour that culminated in the deaths of three rock ‘n’ roll pioneers on February 3, 1959.
Lehmer is best when detailing the backgrounds of the three stars and how they came to be on the Winter Dance Party tour. J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. the Big Bopper, was a 28-year-old Texas DJ who held the world’s record for continuous time on the air (122 hours, 8 minutes) and had struck gold as a singer with Chantilly Lace. Ritchie Valens, 17, was the first Latino rocker to achieve national success, with the single Donna. Buddy Holly, 22, was already a major star with a string of hits.
Because of conflicts with his manager, Holly was temporarily broke, so he agreed to headline the tour. Lehmer has interviewed musicians who were on the tour (including Waylon Jennings, who played bass for Holly), family members, promoters, and fans who attended the shows. He establishes that while teens were thrilled by the performances, the musicians were miserable, because their tour bus was comfortless and frequently heatless in the subzero weather.
To escape another sleepless night, Holly and the others decided to charter a tiny three-passenger plane after their show in Clear Lake, Iowa.
I worked with Larry at the Register for several years. I recommend his work highly.
Buy it here.
A 1968 graduate of the University of Nebraska, Larry spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, eight years at the Nonpareil of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and then 25 years as a copy editor, copy desk chief and news editor for the Des Moines Register.
Still based in Des Moines, Larry runs a writing and editing service for businesses and families called When Words Matter. Find Larry’s blog here and his Twitter feed here.
TRUE CRIME BOOKS BY JERRY LANGTON
Toronto-based freelance journalist Jerry Langton has written 12 books.
His 2011 book Gangland about Mexican drug cartels seems to be very popular.
Neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble seems to have the print version in stock at the moment. You can still get it for Nook however.
His book from earlier this year — Fallen Angel: The Unlikely Rise of Walter Stadnick and the Canadian Hells Angels — is available only for Nook and Kindle.
Here’s the publicity blurb:
Walter Stadnick is not an imposing man. At five-foot-four, his face and arms scarred by fire in a motorcycle accident, he would not spring to mind as a leader of Canada’s most notorious biker gang, the Hells Angels. yet through sheer guts and determination, intelligence and luck, this Hamilton-born youth who had the nickname of “Nurget” rose in the Hells Angels ranks to become national president.
Not only did he lead the Angels through the violent war with their rivals the rock machine in Montreal in the Nineties, Stadnick saw opportunity to grow the Hells Angels into a national criminal gang.
He was a visionary–and a highly successful one.
His most recent book — The Notorious Bacon Brothers: Inside Gang Warfare on Vancouver Streets — was published in March.
Here’s the pitch:
Gang violence is nothing new to Vancouver, but the brutality of the Bacon Brothers—Jonathan, Jarrod, and Jamie—has become legendary. The Notorious Bacon Brothers follows the chaotic rise of these three gangland figures to the pinnacle of Vancouver’s lucrative drug trade. Chronicling not only the Bacon Brothers themselves, but also the gangs they infiltrated on their way to the top, and the catastrophic wave of violence they brought to the streets of Vancouver, the book explores how the bothers’ adeptness at making and breaking allegiances and propensity for violence is now being replicated by gangs across Canada.
Find it here.
A graduate of McMaster University of Hamilton, Ontario, Jerry has worked as a copy editor and designer for the Securities Industry News, the New York Daily News, the Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., and Toronto Star. He also happens to be married to Tonia Cowan, the Toronto Globe & Mail‘s graphics editor.
Find Jerry’s Twitter feed here.
TRUE CRIME BOOKS BY CAITLIN ROTHER
San Diego-based investigative journalist Caitlin Rother is the author of nine books, including six with a “true crime” bent and one novel.
Her most recent — Lost Girls – was released in 2012. The publicity blurb:
Chelsea King was a popular high school senior, an outstanding achiever determined to make a difference. Amber Dubois loved books and poured her heart into the animals she cared for.
Treasured by their families and friends, both girls disappeared in San Diego County, just eight miles and one year apart. The community’s desperate search led authorities to John Albert Gardner III, a brutal predator hiding in plain sight.
Buy the book here.
One of Caitlin older works — Body Parts — was re-released in October.
When he walked into the Humbolt County Sheriff’s Office in Northern California with a woman’s severed breast in his pocket, 36-year-old Wayne Adam Ford wasn’t even a suspect. But before it was all over, he would be convicted of the grisly torture and murder of four women, two of whom he dismembered. If Ford hadn’t confessed, he’d probably still be out there today.
But he did confess – because he knew he’d kill again. Based on previously sealed testimony and interviews with the key players in the case, Body Parts is a frighteningly intimate look into a twisted man overcome by the horror of what he had done, and powerless to resist his increasingly perverse sexual appetites.
Find it here.
Find all of Caitlin’s books here.
A 1984 graduate of Cal Berkeley, Caitlin earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 1987 and then spent a year each at the Springfield-Union News, the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Daily News before signing on with the Union-Tribune of San Diego. She worked there for 13 years as an investigative reporter before leaving the newspaper world in 2006. She also teaches at UCSD.
Find her web site here and her Twitter feed here.
POLITICAL HISTORY BY STEVEN HART
Steven Hart — a reporter for the Burlington County Times of Willingboro, N.J. — has written two nonfiction books of note, either of which might make an interesting Christmas gift.
His first book from 2007 was The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway. How interesting is it? Check out the official publicity blurb:
At the dawn of America’s love affair with the automobile, cars and trucks leaving the nation’s largest city were unceremoniously dumped out of the western end of the Holland Tunnel onto local roads wending their way through the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Jersey City mayor Frank Hague — dictator of the Hudson County political machine and a national political player—was a prime mover behind the building of the country’s first “superhighway,” designed to connect the hub of New York City to the United States of America. Hague’s nemesis in this undertaking was union boss Teddy Brandle, and construction of the last three miles of Route 25, later dubbed the Pulaski Skyway, marked an epic battle between big labor and big politics, culminating in a murder and the creation of a motorway so flawed it soon became known as “Death Avenue” —now appropriately featured in the opening sequence of the hit HBO series The Sopranos.
Find it at Amazon.
In his second book — American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine, published this fall — Steven took on those same politicians to compare and contrast their rise to power during Prohibition and the Great Depression and how each ran his machine.
Find it here.
A graduate of Rutgers, Steven has worked at the Piscataway-Dunellen Review, the Home News Tribune and at a commercial real estate publication also in Jersey. He also worked as a copy editor for the New York Post. A prolific freelancer, he’s appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Salon. In addition to his two books above, Stephen has also written two novels…
…We All Fall Down (published in 2011) and Echo (published in September).
Find his blog here.
You’re reading the eighth of a series of blog posts offering up ideas for Holiday gift giving, but with items created by your visual journalism colleagues around the world.
The schedule, so far:
DEC. 2: Greeting cards
DEC. 3: Cool stuff
DEC. 4: Homemade jewelry
DEC. 5: Paper and fabric goods and stuff for the home
DEC. 6: Children’s books
DEC. 9: Comics and cartoons
DEC. 10: Novels
TODAY: Nonfiction books
THURSDAY: Books about work
FRIDAY: Cookbooks, calendars and CDs
Also, check out the gifts for geeky collector-types that I wrote for the O.C. Register‘s Holiday Gift Guide in the Thanksgiving day paper.
Do you know of anything — or anybody — I should add to my list? Give me a ho-ho-holler.