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It is Bowles's flamboyant life that most fascinates people -- his friendships, his appetites, his controversial marriage, his leftist politics, his voluntary exile to Morocco, and his stature as a countercultural and gay icon. Through ten years of research, 13 trips to Bowles's home in Tangier, extensive interviews with some 200 of Bowles's acquaintances, and her own intimate relationship with Bowles, who died in 1999, Virginia Spencer Carr has gathered a wealth of information about Bowles and has written a masterful, riveting, and definitive account of an extraordinary life.

One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner by Jay Parini. HarperCollins, 2004; $29.95.

FROM THE DUST JACKET:One Matchless Time is a sympathetic evocation of William Faulkner's life and work. From his birth in 1897 in Mississippi to his death 65 years later, Faulkner spent almost his entire life on this one small patch of land, the "significant soil" from which all his fiction grew. Jay Parini paints an intimate picture of Faulkner's Mississippi world and shows how the artist transformed this raw material into Yoknapatawpha County, a place of pure imagination.

Between 1928 and 1942, during what Faulkner called his "one matchless time," a period of wild inspiration when characters and stories came to him mysteriously and in abundance, he published more than half a dozen masterpieces, including the novels The Sound and the Fury; As I Lay Dying; Sanctuary; Light in August; Absalom, Absalom!; The Wild Palms; Go Down, Moses; and The Hamlet. This is an astonishing achievement without equal in American literature.

Parini, who has taught Faulkner's work to students for nearly 30 years, vividly brings to life this writer's complex fictional world in the context of his life, using the one to illuminate the other. He uses letters and memoirs unavailable to earlier biographers as well as interviews he had with Faulkner's daughter and several of his lovers. His William Faulkner is an immensely gifted, obsessive artist plagued by alcoholism and a bad marriage, but someone who rose above his limitations to become a figure of major importance on the stage of world literature.

Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show by Rachel Shteir. Oxford University Press, 2004; $28.

FROM THE DUST JACKET: The fascinating, untold story of the history of undressing: over 50 years of taking it off. Striptease combined sexual display and parody, cool eros and wisecracking Bacchanalian humor. Striptease could be savage, patriotic, irreverent, vulgar, sophisticated, sentimental, and subversive -- sometimes, all at once. In this vital cultural history, Rachel Shteir traces the ribald art from its 19th-century vaudeville roots, through its long and controversial career, to its decline during the liberated 1960s. The book argues that striptease is an American form of popular entertainment -- maybe the most American form of popular entertainment. Based on exhaustive research and filled with rare photographs and period illustrations, Striptease re-creates the combustible mixture of license, independence, and sexual curiosity that allowed strippers to thrive for nearly a century. Shteir brings to life striptease's Golden Age, the years between the Jazz Age and the Sexual Revolution, when strippers performed around the country, in burlesque theatres, nightclubs, vaudeville houses, carnivals, fairs, and even in glorious palaces on the Great White Way. Taking us behind the scenes, Rachel Shteir introduces us to a diverse cast of characters that collided on the burlesque stage, from tight-laced political reformers and flamboyant impresarios, to drag queens, shimmy girls, cootch dancers, tit serenaders, and even girls next door, lured into the profession by big-city aspirations. Throughout the book, readers will find essential profiles of famed performers, including Gypsy Rose Lee, "The Literary Stripper"; Lili St. Cyr, the 1950s mistress of exotic striptease; and Blaze Starr, the "human heat wave," who literally set the stage on fire. Striptease is an insightful and entertaining portrait of an art form at once reviled and embraced by the American public. Blending careful research and vivid narration, Rachel Shteir captures striptease's combination of sham and seduction while illuminating its surprisingly persistent hold on the American imagination.

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