Paperback Picks -- Books from Peter Kurth, Mark Childress, and Beverly Lowry

American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thomspson (1990)
Peter Kurth
In her heyday, during the depths of the Depression, ”the First Lady of American Journalism” was one of the most famous women in the country. A reporter of legendary verve, she served as the model for the Katharine Hepburn character in the 1942 film Woman of the Year. And as Peter Kurth suggests, her private life offers a fascinating mirror for the sexual politics of her times. B

Rough Justice: Days and Nights of a Young D.A. (1990)
David Heilbroner
A readable, colorful account of the author’s years as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. Heilbroner is no bleeding heart; he’s turned on by the city’s mean streets — the rappy lingo, the hookers’ flash, the strange rituals of the drug dens. Like his fellow rookies in the prosecutor’s office, he has rejected the kingdom of corporate law, and his rebel spirit enlivens even the grimmest of proceedings. A

Tender (1990)
Mark Childress
Childress (A World Made of Fire, V for Victor) offers a saggy saga, the tale of Leroy Kirby, an Elvis-like pop singer, and his odyssey through the American fame game. The characters are, for the most part, unburdened by complications, and the plot is the usual sugary myth about sudden success. Things perk up a bit when Leroy hits the wicked music biz, but all in all, this hymn needs some jazz. C-

Breaking Gentle (1988)
Beverly Lowry
Imagine Virginia Woolf writing out of Austin, Tex., but using shorter sentences. That’s Beverly Lowry — sort of. Like Woolf’s novels, Breaking Gentle is a tapestry of moments, subtleties, and exquisite detail. Nothing much happens to the Caldwell family during the span of days described here, but somehow everything changes. It’s hard to do justice to this perceptive writer or the extraordinary humanity she brings to her characters. Do not miss this one. A

The Four Winds: A Shaman’s Odyssey Into the Amazon (1990)
Alberto Villoldo and Erik Jendresen
Psychology grad student Villoldo and companion Jendresen journey to Peru to ”experience the effects of a legendary potion.” Skip the travelogue and head for the out-of-body experiences. Before you can say ”white rabbit,” the author is visualizing power animals and having his forehead cut open with a knife. In this world, enlightenment is about as hard to attain as a cheeseburger. B