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What is it about butts, exactly, that has made them such a source of fascination throughout history? In her debut book, Butts: A Backstory, reporter Heather Radke seeks to answer that question with wit, empathy and verve. The author spoke with BookPage about what she learned when she looked at butts head-on.

Congratulations on your first book! Did you always want to be an author? What’s been the most exciting aspect so far?
Yes! I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl wearing bifocals, thumbing through the pages of Anne of Green Gables at Schuler Bookstore in Okemos, Michigan. It is incredibly difficult to write a book, and a true honor and thrill to have it published. For me, one of the most exciting parts was doing oral histories with different women about their bodies for the initial background research. I spoke with people who had very different bodies from mine and came from very different backgrounds, and it was always fascinating to hear how people feel about their bodies and what helped shape those feelings.

What made you decide that butts merited more than an interview or essay, but instead an entire book? Why were you moved to write about butts now?
I started this book as an essay about the connection between the bustle and the life of Sarah Baartman—a Khoe woman from rural South Africa who was taken to London in 1810 and put on exhibit so people could pay to view her butt—but I quickly realized that the questions I was asking had answers that were much larger than a single essay could contain. In order to understand the symbolic significance of womens’ butts, I would need to explore many historical moments, as well as the science of the butt and the recent explosion of interest in mainstream pop culture. It was this recent interest in the butt that made me think it might be a potent topic to write about now. One of the questions I had was about why and how mainstream beauty standards change, and the butt is such a powerful example of what that looks like.

Read our starred review of ‘Butts’ by Heather Radke.

It’s clear that you put a great deal of time, effort and care into learning about a dizzying variety of people, places, eras, fashions, cultures and more for Butts. Will you share a bit about what it was like to manage such a massive amount of information?
It was a lot of information! It felt like I was trying (and failing) to become an expert on everything, from Jane Fonda’s career to the gender politics of drag to the history of South Africa in the 18th century. I tried to read as widely and deeply as I could on each subject, talk to scholars in the various fields I was covering, and report on the people whose lives were touched by the topics in each chapter. In a lot of ways, it felt like what I used to do when I curated exhibits at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and I used some of the organizational and research tools I learned when I did that work. But there is always a bit of a feeling of drinking from a firehose when taking on such an enormous topic. I’ll never be able to learn as much as I want!

Was there anything you had to leave out of Butts that you wish you could’ve included?
The butt is a HUGE topic, because it’s as old as the human species and as varied. I wish I’d been able to research and include more about other parts of the world besides the United States and Europe, but I decided that it made sense to narrow the scope because of my own personal experience and the enormous influence the U.S. has had on beauty standards worldwide. I also did some research on art history, pornography and the midcentury pinup girl, each of which could have been its own chapter!

“The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them.”

Book jacket image for Butts by Heather Radke

In your Introduction to Butts, you reflect on your childhood view that your mother’s butt was “a body part like any other, something to love because I loved the human it was part of. It was not a problem or a blessing. It was only a fact.” Of course, as your book amply illustrates, “butts are not so simple.” Do you think we will ever be able to back off of butts enough to view them as fact, to see them as a body part rather than a symbol?
Honestly, no. We use bodies and body parts as symbols constantly—whether breasts, skin, hair or butts—and that feels very unlikely to change. I think the real problem isn’t actually using bodies symbolically but doing so unconsciously, or confusing the symbolism for reality. The work is to try and interrogate our assumptions about bodies and ask where they came from, if they are true and why we cling to them. Maybe then we can find new kinds of symbolism, or new ways to make meaning that aren’t so hurtful to so many people. 

Considering race is vitally important when examining attitudes toward butts and the women they belong to. From Sarah Baartman and the racist so-called “scientific inquiry” that was used to exploit her, to the more modern-day obsession with Jennifer Lopez’s posterior—there is a seemingly endless mix of fascination, envy, desire and anger projected onto the butts of women of color. When you think about that aspect of your work in Butts, what has stayed with you the most? 
As a white woman, I was very interested in when and why white women become interested in the butts of women of color. Of course, there isn’t a single answer to that question, but something that twerk instructor Kelechi Okafor said really stuck with me. She talked about how many white women she encountered as a dance instructor were uncomfortable with their own sexuality and turned to twerk as a way to express themselves sexually. Obsession with butts is almost always adjacent to angst about sex and race. The more we can talk about that openly, the more likely it is that fewer people will be objectified and harmed by that obsession.

“Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products.”

“Baby Got Back” is a song that everyone knows, and your deep dive into its origins offers lots of interesting context in terms of how the song and its creator, Sir Mix-A-Lot, were received in 1992—and the ways in which its lyrics and video still affect our perceptions of butts today. But while the song and video are in many ways a celebration, you also note that one professor called it “empowered misogyny.” Can you share a bit more about that dichotomy?
I think that “Baby Got Back” is a very complicated text, largely because it is so popular. I believe that Sir Mix-A-Lot meant for it to be a celebration of a beauty standard that, at the time, was not mainstream. But when I watch it now, my conversation with Kyra Gaunt, the scholar who called the song “empowered misogyny,” is the one I think about the most. She talked about how it was part of a larger trend in hip-hop of objectifying women, but that because it’s about butts and therefore seems like a joke, it’s easier to give it a pass. It is one of the things that is truly fascinating about butts: Because they are funny, and easy not to take seriously, there is a lot of subtext that goes unexamined in butt-related cultural products. 

You note that when you were around 10 or 11, suddenly exercise was “no longer a game. It was a necessity.” Aerobics were a rite of passage for women in the 1980s, especially “Buns of Steel” and Jane Fonda videos. Is there any form of exercise today that occupies the same sort of butt-obsessed space in our culture?
There were lots of classes in the mid-2010s that promised to help create butts that looked like Kim Karashian or Beyonce. Those classes, which likely used very similar exercises as “Buns of Steel,” promised to create a big butt, whereas “Buns of Steel” was much more invested in a small, tight butt. It’s in these promises that you can really see the ways that trends around body shape ebb and flow. 

“The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning.”

What were you most hoping to convey or accomplish with Butts? What’s been the most surprising reaction to the book so far?
I’ve definitely gotten the sense that some people are surprised that a book like this exists. When I posted the cover on social media, there were a few retweets where people said, essentially, “Is this some kind of joke?” But in a way, I suppose that is part of the bigger point I’m trying to make with this book: The things that we don’t take seriously, the things we laugh about or feel are too small to notice, are often things that hold tremendous meaning. Butts contain multitudes, and it can be both meaningful and fun to discover just what those multitudes are. 

What’s next for you?
Great question! I just had a baby, so my hope is that a little more sleep lies in my immediate future. Beyond that, I’m working on a couple of projects that take up some of the themes of Butts—gender, identity, the importance of the small—and explore them from very different angles.

Author headshot of Heather Radke © by Andrew Semans

Butts examines our most infamous body part through the lenses of racism and sexism, science and pop culture, fitness and fashion.

In her fascinating and frank debut, Butts: A Backstory, journalist Heather Radke ponders why this body part is so polarizing, the collective cultural obsession so enduring. 

As the author notes in her introduction, “Butts are a bellwether. The feelings we have about butts are almost always indicative of other feelings—feelings about race, gender, and sex.” Radke explores the societal forces that underlie such feelings as she guides readers on an impressively well-researched tour of butts throughout history, beginning with a functional analysis (hominids and horses take center stage) and ultimately alighting in the present (twerking, social media and celebrity butts).

Heather Radke shares why now was the perfect time for a thoughtful exploration of this cheeky topic.

In between, Radke considers the persistent, pernicious attitude toward women’s bodies as things to critique. She shares the story of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman of the Khoe tribe who was effectively enslaved and exhibited in England and France in the early 1800s under the guise of scientific inquiry. From there, Radke segues into eugenics and its emphasis on big butts as supposed markers of sexual deviance.

These so-called scientific endeavors have had a ripple effect, Radke explains, influencing media and pop culture, creeping into beauty standards and body image. She offers examples of butt-obsessed media with positive posterior impacts, too; a deep dive into the 1992 hip-hop sensation “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot is entertaining and edifying, and Beyoncé’s 2001 hit “Bootylicious” gets a shoutout as well.

Radke also touches on fitness sensations (“Buns of Steel”) and fashion trends (Victorian bustles), as well as her complicated feelings about her own “generous” butt. While she, like so many others, has felt shame about her body shape, Radke also believes that “a close examination of the parts of ourselves that can feel unbearable . . . can be transformative.” Certainly, Butts can usher readers onto this more positive path, thanks to its top-notch reportage, assured and respectful voice and invitation to butt-centric contemplation.

In Butts: A Backstory, journalist Heather Radke ponders why this body part is so polarizing, the collective cultural obsession so enduring.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Nothing could have prepared Melanie Jayne Chisholm—aka Sporty Spice—for the loneliness, isolation and debilitating episodes of imposter syndrome that accompanied the extreme highs (and lows) of fame. In The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, the singer, songwriter and tracksuit-wearing Brit carefully unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

The Spice Girls were a pop culture supernova at the turn of the new millennium. Contrary to the narrative wrought by the misogynistic media, the group was not the brainchild of industry executives. After answering a magazine advertisement, Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), Melanie Brown (Scary), Michelle Stephenson and Chisholm came together to form the band Touch. When Stephenson proved to be a weak link, Emma Bunton (Baby) was recruited. It would take a pivotal name change and the reclamation of creative autonomy from their early male managers, but the Spice Girls would go on to smash records and, even more importantly, disrupt the cultural and musical landscape.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

This type of rise at a young age leaves a few scars, and Chisholm isn’t afraid to recount her personal battles. The pressures of being a ubiquitous pop star coupled with her innate perfectionism brought on depression and severe anxiety. At one point after the Spice Girls had gone on hiatus and Chisholm had embarked on a successful solo career, she was nearly agoraphobic and plagued by incessant panic attacks. And despite her public image of health and fitness, the singer was secretly contending with disordered eating, which eventually led to anorexia and binge eating disorders. In 2009, Chisholm gave birth to her daughter, Scarlet. Motherhood wasn’t a cure-all for her mental health issues, but this new caregiver role allowed her to appreciate the extraordinary power of her body and all she has put it through.

Chisholm’s narrative voice is warm, funny and unabashedly real. Fans will feel as though they’ve been invited to an enlightening soul session with a close friend. Hard truths about patriarchal oppression and the fickle nature of celebrity are examined with sympathy and understanding. The Sporty One is more than the memoir of a pop star; it’s an emotional revelation.

Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.
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There’s nothing more exciting than standing among a throng of strangers listening to live music or watching the lights go down in a movie theater when the show is about to begin. But these six books certainly come close.

The Art of Bob Mackie

Bob Mackie is a member of a very small club: Hollywood costume designers whom regular folks (meaning, not ex-theater kids) know by name. Throughout his storied career, Mackie has designed gowns for Marilyn Monroe, Carol Burnett, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Madonna and, well, anybody who was anybody on TV, the silver screen or Broadway. The Art of Bob Mackie by Frank Vlastnik and Laura Ross is an authorized trip down memory lane, featuring brightly colored sketches and photos of over-the-top creations from Mackie’s 60 years in fashion, from his big break designing for Broadway star Mitzi Gaynor in 1966 to his costumes for The Cher Show, the 2018 jukebox musical based on the actress and singer’s career. Fans of “lewks,”divasand Hollywood gossip will have lots to enjoy. 

The Motherlode

Hip-hop has never been a man’s game, but male rappers have gotten more attention, money and respect since the beginning. Former Vibe and Jezebel editor Clover Hope sets things straight with The Motherlode, an encyclopedia dedicated to the women of hip-hop. Going all the way back to the 1980s, Hope leaves no woman out, from MC Sha-Rock (hip-hop’s first prominent female emcee) to Cardi B. Each rapper is honored with an essay, a minibio and funky artwork by Rachelle Baker, meaning your giftee has no excuse not to kill at a Women in Hip-Hop category on “Jeopardy!” Present this book with your own playlist of hip-hop’s fiercest ladies, and it’ll be a gift to remember.  


Journalist Wil Haygood’s Colorization traces the experience of Black artists on and behind the screen through 100 years of film history, demonstrating that racism hasn’t always been this bad in Hollywood. It’s actually been a lot worse. This meaty analysis of Black film history spans everything from The Birth of a Nation (1915), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, to Gone With the Wind (1939) and its infamous whitewashing of slavery, to Get Out (2017) and its memorable portrayal of “post-racial” liberalism. Haygood has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and his research skills are as impeccable as that honor implies. He is also such a descriptive writer that you need not have seen every single movie he writes about in order to understand his analysis. Don’t be surprised if Colorization ends up on film studies syllabi for years to come.  

Art Boozel

We could all stand to freshen up our cocktail repertoire, and that’s where Art Boozel comes in. The book pairs dozens of artists with cocktails based on their work and/or personalities. For example, the Keith Haring is made with pear cider, lemon juice and a brandied cherry (among other ingredients), so it’s as bright and colorful as Haring’s art. Author Jennifer Croll has an endlessly creative mind for unique cocktails (her previous book, Free the Tipple, is also a compendium of cocktail recipes), and each artist and their drink is delightfully illustrated by Kelly Shami. Come for the recipes, stay for the contemporary art history lesson you never got in school. 

Mental Floss: The Curious Viewer

Mental Floss: The Curious Viewer, “a miscellany of bingeable streaming TV shows from the past 20 years,” is a reminder of just how many hours of prestige TV there is to watch. (There’s a lot.) Jennifer M. Wood, an editor at the pop culture blog Mental Floss, unearths everything you ever wanted to know about beloved shows like “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” “Downton Abbey,” “Friday Night Lights” and other shows worthy of a binge-watch. She shares fun facts and behind-the-scenes gossip from each show but somehow doesn’t make you feel like you’ve read them all in a Buzzfeed article. The Curious Viewer might just be the book that pulls the couch potato in your life away from the TV (and helps them dominate at trivia night). 

Fun City Cinema

At a certain point, everyone who lives in New York City stops seeing movie sets as exciting and instead sees them as a nuisance. That’s because the streets of Gotham have graced so many films. In Fun City Cinema, film critic and former film editor of Flavorwire Jason Bailey revisits the films that tell the story of NYC’s history and, in some cases, America’s history. The city changes so frequently that many films are “fascinating artifacts of cinematic archeology,” he writes in his introduction. It may be jarring to see photos of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and controversial ex-mayors such as Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in the same book as, say, The Muppets Take Manhattan. Alas, these are contradictions New Yorkers live with every day. 

Got a film fanatic or art aficionado in your life? Give them one of these books and watch their eyes light up.
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"I have this little sister, Lola. She is small and very funny. Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me to. . ." Thus begins each book (and episode) of Charlie and Lola, entertaining siblings with active imaginations, and it's a good thing, too, as little Lola has a strong will and a picky appetite. Clever (and extremely patient) Charlie comes up with all sorts of ideas to get her to eat in Charlie and Lola's I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, the hilarious pop-up version of Lauren Child's Kate Greenaway Medal-winning book. Tomatoes aren't the only things Lola refuses to eat, and in one spread her eyes roll around in her head as the uneaten items on her plate change. More nixed items show up on pull-down menus on the adjacent page. There are lots of flaps to tug this way and that as readers play with Lola's food. Try this with your own discriminating eater.

Peek in My Pocket is another great book for tiny ones. With paper-engineering by David A. Carter (who also created this year's 600 Black Spots, the latest in his design museum-worthy series) and simple text by Sarah Weeks, young readers are introduced to shapes, colors and textures presented by well-dressed animals.

In The Pompeii Pop-up subtle, but effective pop-ups by David Hawcock (The Ancient Egypt Pop-up Book) tell the story of the famous Roman city. Written by textbook author Peter Riley with Dr. Thorston Opper, curator of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, the book covers more than what happened on that August day in AD 79. The authors also present a detailed view of life in the ancient world, explaining currency, religion, water management and home life. Pop-ups include a sailing vessel, a Roman bath and an erupting Mount Vesuvius; there is also a little booklet on Herculaneum and a wearable gladiator mask.

The classics are ripe for pop-up interpretation and Sam Ita jumps in with Moby-Dick, A Pop-up Book. Spectacular spreads in this graphic novel meets pop-up put the reader into Herman Melville's story: watching the Pequod sail out of harbor and later standing among the rowdy sailors on deck. For pure spectacle, though, nothing matches the moment when Capt. Ahab and his crew meet the legendary white whale. Ita sticks with water for the next book in this series, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, coming next spring.

The bright colors in Journey to the Moon by husband-and-wife graphic designers Lucio and Meera Santoro give it a storybook quality. But the defining feature of this book is the use of suspended pop-up elements: a steam locomotive in the Harry Potter-esque opening spread, a Spruce Goose-like plane (puffy clouds and the view of houses down below complete the illusion of flight), a Jeep kicking up dust. This series of adventures prepares the intrepid young narrator for the ultimate one dodging asteroids and star clusters as his bright-red rocket ship heads to the Moon, where a lunar module and other surprises await.

Who better than Matthew Reinhart to interpret George Lucas' Star Wars saga in pop-up? Not only is Reinhart a devoted fan (as he told BookPage in June), but his in-depth, layered approach is necessary to do justice to the beloved series. In Star Wars: A Pop-up Guide to the Galaxy, Reinhart employs his signature mini-pop sidebars, hand-painted paper and info-crammed pages to create a complete 30th-anniversary reference volume. Familiar characters and creatures (good and evil) are featured in large pop-ups C-3PO and R2-D2 with foil highlights, Darth Vader's head or small ones (Jedis, Yoda and a not-so-small Chewie). Anyone longing for their 1970s Star Wars toys will love the working lightsabers and a hovering Millennium Falcon, along with smaller pops of X-wing Starfighters and other ships.

Popigami: When Everyday Paper Pops! is a little like P.H. Hanson's books (My Grandpa's Briefcase and this year's My Mommy's Tote) in that it takes the ordinary accoutrements of adult life and renders them as fascinating as they appear to little ones. Through James Diaz's origami-like pop-ups and Francesca Diaz's illustrations, the pages of a newspaper become a flock of birds, boats made from boarding passes and passport pages sail across a map and chewing gum-wrapper birds swirl along with fall leaves (this spread could also be used to teach a lesson about littering). Father and daughter Diaz are masters of detail: An office mishap includes ducks made from legal pad paper swimming in coffee spilt across a calendar marked with deadlines and meetings.

Yes, readers will learn about forts, Native Americans, prospecting, upholding and breaking the law, and the Civil War in Anton Radevsky's The Wild West Pop-up Book. But what will really fire young imaginations are the amazing free-standing props that come with the book (once they figure out how to set them up). A Conestoga wagon, three-car Iron Horse, stage coach and a cowboy and his trusty horse cover transportation of the era, while the main drag of a bustling Western town forms the backdrop for countless showdowns.

Little girls, and some not-so-little ones, who loved Robyn Johnson's The Enchanted Dolls' House will find a beloved second home in Dream House. Billed as an interactive play house, the book opens out to reveal a two-story Georgian, complete with a formal dining room, ballroom, balcony and columns, courtyards and working lights(!). Young Mary-Beth, who lives in the house, shares her thoughts in a little booklet. While it would have been nice to have a paper doll of Mary-Beth, active imaginations (or a set of paper dolls to scale) will help fill the rooms, for which, by the way, there are several pieces of furniture to assemble.

"I have this little sister, Lola. She is small and very funny. Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me to. . ." Thus begins each book (and episode) of Charlie and Lola, entertaining siblings with active imaginations, and it's a good thing, too, as little Lola has a strong will and a picky appetite. Clever (and […]
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1969, when the Woodstock Music & Art Festival began. An event that brought more than half a million people to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York for three days of music and celebration, Woodstock signaled the popularity and potency of modern rock ’n’ roll in American society, and ultimately led to the creation of today’s popular music empire and celebrity culture. Three books, two new volumes and an updated reissue, provide exhaustive and often spirited accounts from insiders, historians and participants in the epic festival that paved the way for the convergence of commerce and culture that constitutes such contemporary spectacles as Bonnaroo.

Behind the scenes
The Road to Woodstock: From The Man Behind The Legendary Festival is famed promoter and artist manager Michael Lang’s account of the maneuvering, deal-making and deft planning that resulted in Woodstock. Only in his 20s, he’d already organized the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 and enjoyed producing other shows and concerts. He deemed himself part of a new generation rejecting the old social order and embracing fresh ideas about such issues as civil rights, sexuality and drugs. Lang envisioned Woodstock as much more than a series of concerts: it would also be a forum for alternative political and social philosophies, and a chance to debunk myths about long-haired kids, their music and their heroes.

The book documents the daily improvising on details like staging, security and contracts. Lang recruited the help of everyone from The Hog Farm, a commune whose assistance ranged from aiding victims of drug overdoses to providing food for hungry kids, to off-duty cops who took security gigs against the wishes of their superiors, and apprentice carpenters who helped design and build sets with minimal or no specifications.

It also contains several rare photographs and many great stories. These include Lang recruiting Peter Townshend of The Who by keeping him awake and plying him with alcohol, and getting a terrified Richie Havens to open the concert, then having him do so many encores he forgets the words to a number and starts wailing “Freedom.”

History of a phenom
If Lang’s book takes an ultra-personal approach, Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague’s Woodstock: Peace, Music & Memories is the prototypical historical chronicle. Littleproud and Hague were too young to attend the festival, but they interviewed its co-creator and promoter Artie Kornfield, along with numerous Woodstock survivors. Their colorful chronicles add spice to what would otherwise be a dry factual summary of the concert and related episodes.

Kornfield’s anecdotes dovetail almost exactly with Lang’s, while the spicy rhetoric of such figures as peace activist Wavy Gravy shows that not everyone at Yasgur’s farm was in a joyous and giving mood. There are also 350 color and black-and-white pictures, many of them great candid shots of folks enjoying the music, being overcome by the spectacle and reveling in the atmosphere.

Picturing legends
Like Lang and Kornfield, photographer Elliott Landy considered himself part of the new order Woodstock was created to serve. But his involvement and connections came from the journalistic rather than musical end. He took pictures for various underground and alternative newspapers and magazines, and became friends with Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin before the festival. Landy was also a prolific contributor to record labels, providing spectacular shots that would become legendary album covers.

While Woodstock Vision: The Spirit of A Generation  was first released in 1994, this latest version includes a special 90-page photo commemorative of the Woodstock festival personally selected by Landy from his archive. Because of his relationships with artists, his photos were never posed or staged. Whether it’s classic album covers like Dylan’s Nashville Skyline or Janis Joplin and Richie Havens before and after gut-wrenching Woodstock performances, Landy’s Woodstock Vision gives incredible entry into the personalities of icons.

There will be many other Woodstock retrospective items coming in the days leading up to the anniversary date. Still, these books are a fine addition to the legacy of sources that evaluate the three-day journey that helped change a nation’s culture.

Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville CityPaper and other publications.

1969, when the Woodstock Music & Art Festival began. An event that brought more than half a million people to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York for three days of music and celebration, Woodstock signaled the popularity and potency of modern rock ’n’ roll in American society, and ultimately led to […]
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Another year passes, and finding good gifts for that favorite guy only gets tougher. Books can be a solution, though, since their subject matter ranges as widely as the different types of guys on anyone’s shopping list. Sports books are always big, and this season has produced several of note, but the practical guy and the guy who likes to laugh are also covered. There are even a couple of books about cowboys—and deep down inside, that’s every guy.

The love of the game
The publishers of Sports Illustrated continue to dazzle at holiday time with their beautiful, oversized treatments on major sports, and The Golf Book: A Celebration of the Ancient Game is no exception. Typical of the book series, the sport is generally broken down into eras, with accompanying facts on achievers and achievements interspersed with articles by members of SI’s roster of past and present first-rate journalists, including Dan Jenkins, Rick Reilly, George Plimpton, Frank Deford and the legendary Herbert Warren Wind, who offers a sobering review of Arnold Palmer’s controversial antics at Amen Corner during the 1958 Masters. The photos, by SI’s many award-winners, are often breath-taking: PGA Tour rookie Tiger Woods staring meaningfully into the camera; Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sharing a poignant post-round moment; Pebble Beach’s gorgeous oceanside 18th hole; and much more. The ladies receive some coverage, too (Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, etc.), plus there are endless sidebars focusing on equipment, golf in pop culture, the game as played by our presidents and, in one really surprising photo, the game as played by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro! Roy Blount Jr.’s marvelous foreword, “We’re Talking Golf,” provides etymological clarification of golf’s colorful terminology.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons is a basketball freak. He’s also a lively, sharp-witted, delightfully cynical writer who has exhaustively poured his heart and soul into The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy. This hefty tome can’t be consumed at a single sitting, but it’s damn enjoyable to start reading on any random page. Simmons is relentless, offering cogent historical views of the game’s great teams; sharp statistical analysis; smart assessments of important trades and critical big games; plus the infamous Simmons “pyramid,” which ranks the game’s best-ever 96 players. Simmons is a smart aleck, but he’s also doggedly thorough with his facts and writes with authority—and that includes his almost scholarly insistence on footnotes, which is where a lot of his wit is embedded.

Sports on the big screen
In The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Sports Films of All Time, Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow—both Philadelphians with solid sports media backgrounds—offer descriptions of movies ranging from Rocky (#1) to The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (#100). For each film, the authors include backstory sidebars, contemporary critical reactions and evaluations of pivotal scenes. Interspersed throughout are related essays covering, for example, great sports movies for kids and rankings of actors based on their portrayals of famous athletes, plus interviews with various individuals involved in one way or another with the films, such as actors Bob Uecker (Major League) and Dennis Quaid (The Rookie). Black-and-white photos throughout enhance the already impressive coverage.

Be a know-it-all
The guy who wants to get his macho mojo back will certainly have an interest in The Indispensable Book of Practical Life Skills: Essential Lessons in Everything You Need to Be a Fully Functioning Adult . True, there are touchy-feely (i.e., girly) things in here, but there are also many how-tos of a kind that used to define the man in our society, like jump-starting a car, splitting logs, dealing with emergencies, being handy around the house, plus outdoorsy stuff like camping and . . . skinning a rabbit? Illustrated usefully, and with lucid, step-by-step descriptions, this guide covers a lot of other take-charge, know-how-to-git-’er-done situations. (Softer guys can use the book to learn how to bake bread.)

Big laughs from The Onion
Since its founding in 1988, the hilarious satirical newspaper The Onion has gained a loyal national following and increasing cultural cachet as an outlet for scathing social and political humor. Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude from America’s Finest News Source  is a terrific oversized browsing item, reprinting—mostly in full color—the front pages of every issue from inception through the 2008 presidential election. “Clinton Vaguely Disappointed By Lack of Assassination Attempts,” says one headline from February 2001, and anyone who loves The Onion—and we know you’re out there—knows that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wrap it up and give it to the guy who knows what funny is.

Poker face
Author and card player James McManus’ Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker is an erudite, well-researched and fully referenced history of the French parlor game that morphed into an American obsession in the mid-19th century. Ranging from the revolver-toting days of Wild Bill Hickok to smoky 20th-century Vegas backrooms to the modern age of online gaming, McManus’ work gains broader texture in its linking of play-for-pay card games to various aspects of American society, not least of which are politics and leadership. Hence we learn, among many other things, that President Obama availed himself of poker night while a state senator in Illinois—and acquitted himself well. President Nixon was also notably good playing cards during his World War II service. McManus’ thesis connects gambling to the American character, and given the domestic millions won and lost daily in its various forms, who could say otherwise? An informative glossary of terms is appended.

Channel your inner cowboy
Finally, there’s Jim Arndt’s How to Be a Cowboy: A Compendium of Knowledge and Insight, Wit and Wisdom, a book with a title that speaks for itself. Gorgeous photos are the hallmark of this modest-sized gem, but Arndt, a noted commercial and art photographer, breaks his pictorial coverage down via chapters that also offer cowboy facts and lore, ranging from apparel to the cowboy milieu (ranch, range, rodeo) through cowboy music and the wit and wisdom of the great cowboy philosopher Will Rogers. Cowboys in pop culture are covered in a subsection called “The Cowboy Way,” which presents fun rundowns of great movies and novels and features cool old black-and-white photos of icons such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Nevertheless, it’s the rich color camerawork that really compels, and Arndt’s classy shots of elaborately designed boots, shirts, blue jeans and hats, plus peripheral cowboy gear, are enough to make a guy chuck the 9-to-5 and head out to the wild, wild West.

Another year passes, and finding good gifts for that favorite guy only gets tougher. Books can be a solution, though, since their subject matter ranges as widely as the different types of guys on anyone’s shopping list. Sports books are always big, and this season has produced several of note, but the practical guy and […]
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What is it about movies? Well, just about everything. They are popular entertainment, a universal vehicle for storytelling, a reflection of society, a window into the past, a source of iconic imagery and, finally, lastingly accessible documents of our times. Books about movies and movie stars only extend and inform our fascination, and just in time for Oscar season, a new crop offers both challenging and lighter reading guaranteed to engage film fans.

Star power
Originally published in Great Britain, the Faber & Faber Great Stars series presents mini-biographies of some of Hollywood’s greatest stars. Noted film historian and lexicographer David Thomson is the author of the first four entries in the series. Each paperback is named for its subject—Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman. Each is priced at $14, with the compact coverage tapping out at 130 pages. In this case, brevity might be the soul of wit, presuming that Thomson’s somewhat affected insider’s tone and penchant for titillating sidebars—Davis’ abortions, the size of Cooper’s manhood, Bergman’s affairs and failures as a mother, Bogart’s harridan of a third wife—don’t distract the reader too much from the coverage of his subjects’ early lives, career development and greatest on-screen efforts. As to the latter, Thomson is solid in his assessments, and each key film is well placed into its unavoidably gossipy but often very eventful production context. Each volume features the star’s filmography, plus a smattering of black-and-white archival photos researched by Lucy Gray.

The director’s chair
Actors and actresses may draw the public’s obsessive attention, but the great guiding genius in filmmaking is the director, and two new coffee-table books offer riveting rundowns—in both bounteous pictures and incisive text—of the lives and careers of essential masters. Federico Fellini: The Films offers a keenly detailed narrative by Italian film critic, screenwriter, playwright, actor and Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich. With its rich selection of photos, mainly from the archives of the Fondazione Federico Fellini, this volume soars in its analysis of the man, his movies (often autobiographical in inspiration, focused on societal extremes and, in his later period, politically aware) and the vibrancy of his personalized filmmaking culture.

Coincidentally—or maybe not so—Fellini shared many traits with legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa: Both fortuitously avoided service in World War II, both were accomplished graphic artists (a skill that factored directly into their cinematic visions), both worked extensively and very consciously with a veritable family of performers and technical talents, and both, quite ironically, spent their later years making TV commercials. Furthermore, and perhaps most amazingly, both stayed married to one woman their entire adult lives. Akira Kurosawa: Master of Cinema shares with its sister volume the same reverent regard for its subject: his dogged devotion to his craft, his unique position as an important postwar commentator and his huge influence on later filmmakers. Film historian Peter Cowie’s thorough, erudite coverage accompanies some 200 photographs, mostly black-and-white (Kurosawa’s predominant milieu), though striking color shots from the auteur’s later films are well represented. Introductory essays by Martin Scorsese and Kurosawa expert Donald Richie help set the stage for the book’s pictorial and verbal one-two punch, exposing and explaining the director’s thematic approach to the human condition, Japanese society in particular and the traditions of the ancient samurai that infuse his best-known works. Both books argue forcefully for the rediscovery by younger generations of the vast scope and power of these artists’ great achievements.

Up in lights
Finally, for the more determined movie fan, we have Ira M. Resnick’s Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood. Long an aficionado of movie posters and other ephemera, Resnick followed up a Tinseltown stint as a photographer by founding the Motion Picture Arts Gallery in Manhattan and launching his more lasting career as a collector and dealer. This volume features nearly 300 glorious examples of promotional movie artwork and stills from Resnick’s impressive personal collection, with the items spanning from 1912 to 1962. Resnick’s text incorporates his personal story along with profiles of marquee film stars, important directors and history-making movies. The ubiquitous Scorsese, who many years before was Resnick’s instructor at NYU’s film school, contributes the introduction.

What is it about movies? Well, just about everything. They are popular entertainment, a universal vehicle for storytelling, a reflection of society, a window into the past, a source of iconic imagery and, finally, lastingly accessible documents of our times. Books about movies and movie stars only extend and inform our fascination, and just in […]
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For the men on your list, this year’s selection has a sporty bent, with side trips into macho movies, manly pursuits and muscular journalism.

Leading off the pack—and combining good reporting with a story ripped from the headlines—is Tom Callahan’s His Father’s Son: Earl and Tiger Woods. Callahan, author of the acclaimed bio Johnny U, brings a two-tiered approach to the story of the two Woods men, outlining father Earl’s life and maverick mindset and placing the great golfer Tiger’s own life and career into that broader context. Is the child father to the man? Perhaps so, though Callahan seems better able to profile Woods the father, with his varied markers as military man, Vietnam vet, college athlete and major influence on Tiger. We also gain some insight—if not outright understanding—into the Woodses’ way with women, and that should interest many readers, this being the first major volume to grapple with Tiger’s personality since his endlessly publicized fall from grace in late 2009. (That said, Tiger still comes off here as pretty elusive emotionally.) Callahan infuses his text with many accounts of Tiger’s achievements at major tournaments and also quotes notable golf figures such as Ernie Els, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on Tiger—the athlete and the man.

Two seasons ago, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac took the sports publishing world by storm with its offbeat collaborative writing and unique graphics approach. The writers identified with are at it again, in The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, which applies the same on-the-edge journalism to analysis of the game’s past, from the development of the early leagues, to the rise of the NBA, to rundowns of the impact on the sport by figures such as Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain through to the more modern era of Bird, Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Shaq, Kobe, etc. The text, as quirkily readable as ever, further ranges over pop culture, books, movies and on- and off-court events that have become emblazoned in the public mind in the television age.

For the escapist, movie-fan guy, two new entries in the Bond Collection offer fun reading and browsing. With text by Alastair Dougall, Bond Girls and Bond Villains present nostalgic, evocative pictorial coverage of all the evil geniuses, henchmen and seductive and/or poisonous ladies encountered by the seven cinema James Bonds, in films ranging from Dr. No (1962) to Quantum of Solace (2008). These are fabulously entertaining volumes, though curiously, the actors who played the many roles, men and women, are never identified by name in the text, nor are the Bonds (spanning Sean Connery through Daniel Craig). In that case, the book is particularly recommended for those who think of the Bond phenomenon—and its many personalities—as more fact than fiction.

“A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke,” wrote Rudyard Kipling. In an age where tobacco is anathema to most—a sneaky killer and a social no-no—there are still folks who treasure the singular culture surrounding the cigar (which still goes nicely with brandy, by the way). Churchill, for example, supposedly smoked 8 to 10 of them a day (and Sir Winston lived to be 90). Don’t forget George Burns, Bill Cosby, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain and Fidel Castro, to name but a few on the long and worthy list of tokers. For those who embrace the occasional habit, Lawrence Dorfman’s The Cigar Lover’s Compendium: Everything You Need to Light Up and Leave Me Alone is pretty much a must-have volume. Like cigars themselves, Dorfman’s guidebook is, uh, thoroughly satisfying—from the history of cigar-making to connoisseur considerations to anecdotes and aphorisms. Plus, there’s a useful list of cigar bars and shops in the U.S. and Canada; also a glossary of terms. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Finally, in praise of good writing—and an interesting gift for the guy who appreciates it—is The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese. Talese is internationally known as a purveyor of the so-called New Journalism and author of literary nonfiction classics like The Kingdom and the Power and Thy Neighbor’s Wife. Yet Talese was also a sportswriter, first plying that trade as a teenager for the Ocean City (N.J.) Sentinel-Ledger. Later, he wrote for the University of Alabama’s Crimson-White and eventually the New York Times, Esquire and other major publications. This anthology gathers his pieces from every era—the earliest dating from 1948­—and displays his interest in more than merely the final score, with notably atypical, sometimes surprising reportage on basketball, football, baseball, golf, horse racing and even speed-skating, with a 1980 profile of Olympians Eric and Beth Heiden. He weaves discussion of race, media and society into these stories, and, apropos to his age group (Talese is now 78), there’s a good deal of coverage on boxing, as befits its former standing as a major, print-ready sport. Though Talese famously sympathized with underdogs, the book’s title derives from his famous 1966 Esquire article on Joe DiMaggio—still, decades later, a sports icon.

For the men on your list, this year’s selection has a sporty bent, with side trips into macho movies, manly pursuits and muscular journalism. EYE OF THE TIGER Leading off the pack—and combining good reporting with a story ripped from the headlines—is Tom Callahan’s His Father’s Son: Earl and Tiger Woods. Callahan, author of the […]
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Are you trying to tackle a towering gift list? Never fear! No matter who you’re shopping for, the right book is waiting.

As an elementary school student, I had the good fortune to be part of a private White House Christmas tour led by my classmate’s aunt, who was First Lady Pat Nixon’s press secretary. Decades later, I continue to be fascinated by the White House, and The White House: The President’s Home in Photographs and History is indeed a mesmerizing tour, boasting 278 photographs along with a highly readable, informative text by photography critic Vicki Goldberg.

Here’s a sampling of the intriguing photos within these pages: a biplane about to land on the White House lawn in 1911, flown by a student of the Wright brothers; smoke billowing out of the White House during a 1929 Christmas Eve fire that erupted as President Hoover and his wife hosted a party for the children of their staff; a press secretary in 1957 using office equipment that was crammed inside a bathroom; Betty Ford dancing barefoot on top of the Cabinet Room table; Caroline Kennedy visiting President Obama in the Oval Office as they inspect the desk that her father once used.

There’s something interesting on every page of this comprehensive photographic journey.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard about Comic-Con for years and wondered what it’s all about. Here’s an insider’s look at the “world’s largest pop-culture event,” in the form of both a new documentary and this companion book by Oscar-nominated director Morgan Spurlock, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.

Think of this convention as Halloween on steroids, as adults, families, geeks, comic creators and fans dress up as their favorite super­heroes and comic characters and meet and mingle, all gloriously captured in living color by photographer Alba Tull. Also present are legends and pioneers of the business, such as Stan Lee (the comic book creator of Spider-Man), Iron Man, Thor and other superheroes.

Leafing through this colorful portrait gallery is like wandering through the convention floor and having a quick chat with the fans. Why do they come? What do they love? What do they talk about? “Battlestar Galactica” actor Richard Hatch sums up Comic-Con like this: “People want to come and feel part of something—feel connected to the greater world and be part of this magical industry that has kind of been a savior, I think, for a lot of people’s lives.”

The RecordSetter Book of World Records is the sort of book that my three teen and almost-teen children are bound to devour. Authors Corey Henderson and Dan Rollman founded their own website ( in 2008 after finding the submission process for the Guinness Book of World Records both limiting and overly daunting. Their website’s goal is to invent, beat and discuss world records, and the founders’ philosophy is that “everyone on earth can be the world’s best at something.”

The website itself is fun, creative and inclusive, as is this book, which features records, interviews and tips for setting and beating new records. There’s no end to the inventive feats celebrated, such as: fastest time to open a bag of Skittles and sort them by color (21.5 seconds); most KISS songs named in one minute (45); largest group to sit on balloons and pop them at once (117 people); and most text messages sent and received in a single month (200,052)—a record set by a 19-year-old who, not surprisingly, developed blisters on his thumbs.

Let’s just say that this book is the perfect party gift!

Move over, Ann Landers and Dear Abby. As Philip Galanes explains, his popular New York Times column is “Not Your Mummy’s Advice Column.” He’s collected many of the outrageous questions he’s received and answered in Social Q’s: How To Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today.

The book is arranged into chapters addressing dilemmas related to social situations, public transportation, work, romance, family and money matters, all with wonderful titles such as “Step Away from That Keyboard! E-mails, Texts, and the Three Commandments for E-Living.” With the holidays soon to be here, you’ll learn whether you have to keep shelling out gifts to teenaged relatives who never bother to thank you for them. “Move on,” Galanes advises. Is it okay to approach a fellow commuter on whom you have developed a crush? He tells this questioner, “It’s a free country, Brooke. So long as you keep your clothes on.” (He adds a few cautionary notes, however).

Galanes dishes out reasonable, well thought-out answers to these questions and more. This book is a fun romp through other people’s problems, regardless of whether you face them yourself.

On a more nostalgic note, here’s a lovely compendium for anyone who’s a fan of Norman Rockwell, American history, literature and music. Included in Norman Rockwell’s Spirit of America are 100 color and 50 black-and-white illustrations painted by Rockwell, as well as eight color plates that are separate, ready-to-frame prints. The inspiring paintings are accompanied by excerpts from songs, stories, speeches and more from our nation’s history.

These glimpses into our country’s past are great fun to peruse, and an excellent education for younger readers, who can take a look at an old-fashioned voting booth, a drugstore soda counter, a stern schoolmaster and a crooning barbershop quartet. The literary excerpts feature plenty of well-known names, such as Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Martin Luther King Jr., Laura Ingalls Wilder and O. Henry. Cuddle up with this collection on a cold winter’s night, and you’re bound to stumble upon some hidden gems, such as Ogden Nash’s ode to being a father, which includes lines like these: “But all children matures / Maybe even yours. // You improve them mentally / And straighten them dentally.”

The rest of the poem is equally delightful, and just one of the many treasures found in this literary and artistic collection.

Are you trying to tackle a towering gift list? Never fear! No matter who you’re shopping for, the right book is waiting. WHITE HOUSE HISTORYAs an elementary school student, I had the good fortune to be part of a private White House Christmas tour led by my classmate’s aunt, who was First Lady Pat Nixon’s […]

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