Paperback Picks -- The latest books from Dawn Powell, Camille Paglia, and A.J. Liebling

Berry, Me, and Motown: The Untold Story

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A Time to Be Born
Dawn Powell
The jaded hipsters who prowl Powell’s jazzy New York landscapes make the lounge lizards of ’80s fiction look like ingenues. This novel of a monomaniacal newspaper publisher, his pals, and their schemes is the most satisfying, storywise, of the recent Powell reissues. People compare Powell to Dorothy Parker, but there’s more of Hemingway’s tough bite in this funny gal’s fine lines. A

Crazy Ladies
Michael Lee West
At this point the idea of another group of Southern belles chattering like magpies may sound as appealing as a new Crockpot recipe. But West proves there’s still life in the genre. Crazy Ladies works because the narrative is full and the characters are more than the sum of their idiosyncrasies; they’re grounded in real life like sturdy garden plants. B+

Chanel: A Woman of Her Own
Axel Madsen
Strictly bargain basement; you could fit the new material on the legendary couturier in a pillbox. Madsen constructs Chanel’s life out of a closetful of pop clichés (unhappy orphan striver, control queen, lonely success story). Too bad, as there’s enough juice in la vie de Coco (stars, Nazis, sequins, gossip) to keep Paris burning indefinitely. Send Madsen back to doing hems. C-

The Sweet Science
A.J. Liebling
This reissue of Liebling’s classic boxing pieces (originally published in The New Yorker) is a must for fans of pugilism-and knockout prose. From the tiny neighborhood clubs where young boys lose their sweet glory dreams to the heinous influences of the burgeoning sports media, Liebling gives us a grimy, smoky portrait of the ’50s boxing kingdom. All the raging bulls — Sugar Ray, Joe Louis, Marciano — saunter through. A

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
Camille Paglia
Much talked about, though probably seldom read, this book by a newly minted intellectual celebrity has found admirers among people who take their version of feminism from the media. Some see Paglia’s analysis of art and culture as subtly demeaning to the gains and ambitions of women, but it’s nonetheless provocative and imaginative. B-

Berry, Me, and Motown, The Untold Story
Raynoma Gordy Singleton
Readers of Mary Wilson’s Dreamgirl or Nelson George’s fine Where Did Our Love Go? already know the rough outline of the story told here. What the former Mrs. Berry Gordy adds in this spotty, often bitter, and sometimes self-serving memoir is an insider’s sense of how the rough-and-tumble record business actually works. C+

The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste
Jane & Michael Stern
The Sterns — those professional purveyors of American kitsch — aren’t indicting bad taste, they’re glorifying it. With typical obsessive detail they examine the history of such tacky things as fuzzy dice, leisure suits, whoopee cushions, tuna casserole, and Lava Lites. A

Berry, Me, and Motown: The Untold Story
  • Book