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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of March 14, 2011

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Sprang forward… fell back on my reading, already.     

Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust without Reason
by Anne Roiphe
The title suggests a life of uncompromising passion and zeal. Indeed, “Moderation for most of us is a most unnatural condition … I preferred to burn out like a brilliant firecracker,” declares American feminist writer and journalist Anne Roiphe, known for such novels as Up the Sandbox and Lovingkindness. Characteristically, Roiphe has kept up a prolific pace – one that has been likened to “following somebody through a revolving door” — having published seven novels and two memoirs in her four-decade career, while contributing essays and reviews to The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, and others. She was nominated for the National Book Award for her 1996 memoir Fruitful: A Memoir of Modern Motherhood.

With the brash, staccato prose in which she imbues Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust without Reason, Roiphe fulfills the premise in her journalist daughter Katie’s foreword that “this book is the record of an idea as it moves through a life: the idea is the supreme and consuming importance of art.” In this regard Roiphe couches her chronicle of bohemia and bonhomie during her lost years among the charismatic but coercive male literary and artistic icons of the late 1950s and 1960s – years as cocktail party candy, strewn from Park Avenue to the Hamptons, for the likes of George Plimpton, Terry Southern, Norman Mailer, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron, Larry Rivers, Jack Gelber, among others. Putting her ambitions of becoming a writer on hold, Roiphe married Jack Richardson, a promising playwright, typing his manuscripts and putting up with his promiscuity and drunkenness. She stayed with him for eight years, all the time – as “a free-thinking welter of contradictions, a never-say-die feminist who’s absolutely nuts about children” — distressed about the kind of life she was giving her daughter.

It’s a concern in keeping with Roiphe’s efforts in the advancement of arguments introduced earlier by Betty Friedan regarding a woman’s right to enjoy motherhood. And although Roiphe chose Proust, Sartre, Beckett, and Mann as her idols, and sought out the commotion of New York’s dizzying social scene, her work is also notable for its examination of the conflict between the desire for family and relationships and that for career and self-determination. Roiphe’s autobiography should make for a fascinating read, from a writer who has shown she can articulate the complex intricacies of her life and personality, her “art and madness” reflected upon and retold.

MORE NONFICTION

Drinking with Miss Dutchie: A Memoir
by Ed Breslin 

Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale
by Vincent Cianci, David Fisher

America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation
by David GoldfieldRed:

My Uncensored Life in Rock
by Sammy Hagar

Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office
by Zack O’Malley Greenburg

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe
by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan
by Del Quentin Wilber

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
by Toby Wilkinson

FICTION

Toys
by James Patterson, Neil McMahon

Midnight (Vampire Diaries: The Return Series #3)
by L. J. Smith

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch