Online poker was a hot phenomenon in the early 2000s, and Ship It Holla Ballas! by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback traces the trend by focusing on some of the hottest players. Ship It Holla Ballas is a name coined from a poker term, a celebratory cheer, and urban slang and was chosen as the crew name by an elite group of poker players who studied the online game and figured out how to win. This group of college dropouts met on a popular message board and soon got together in person. While the authors introduce the main players using their online handles, all of them, including, Irieguy, Raptor, and Good2cu, are real guys who got to live lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Most of these young men weren’t even old enough to gamble in a casino when the crew was formed, but they took advantage of the online games to win millions of dollars. Those millions helped these enterprising, if nerdy, teens transform themselves into players with fast cars, big houses, and beautiful women. They eventually took on Vegas, winning some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world, and garnering even more attention.
Readers will get a sense of the personalities of these players and their individual motivations behind dominating this complex card game. The authors frame the story of the crew by outlining the rapid rise and fall of online poker. At one point as many as 15 million people were betting online. But on April 15, 2011, the government shut down the three largest sites, effectively killing the games. This is a story filled with ego, dedication, success, and excess. It is also the story of how the smartest guys in the room parlayed their brains into big bucks.
The shroud of secrecy which surrounds an elusive artist is at the heart of Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall by Will Ellsworth-Jones. This former journalist presents an in-depth look at the reclusive artist from his beginnings as a nobody vandal all the way to the Academy Awards as producer of a nominated documentary. As unlikely as it would seem when reading about the beginnings of his journey, Banksy has somehow managed to become one of the world’s best known and wealthiest living artists. His pieces, which once drew anger and police attention, are now securing millions of dollars at auction.
While Banksy, via his publicity organization Pest Control, refused Ellsworth-Jones’ requests for interviews, the author manages to use secondary sources to shed light on this enigma. He talks with friends, acquaintances, and fellow artists to recount how this mystery man from Bristol, England, who refuses to be photographed or reveal his given name, turned the art world on its head. Readers will also meet fans who wait for hours to obtain limited edition prints and follow the author as he searches the streets for some of Banksy’s works. Ellsworth-Jones also addresses the paradox that Banksy’s commercial success has created for him and questions whether he is the sellout as so many of his contemporaries claim. This is a fascinating glimpse inside the world of street and outsider art, a social commentary, and a philosophical debate about the definition of art.
Many Americans probably got their first glimpse of Banksy (along with a distorted voice and hidden face) and his world in his 2009 documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. This intriguing Oscar-nominated film prompted one New York Times critic to coin the term “prankumentary,” leaving viewers wondering whether the entire film is yet another hoax perpetuated by Banksy and his cult of followers.
Pete Townshend’s biography, Who I Am is not only the story of The Who but also a deeply personal memoir. Townshend shares intimate details from his sometimes bleak early childhood, revealing that these years caused him lifelong fears of abandonment. Who I Am also gives a personal view into cultural and historical developments in post-World War II England.
Compared to other rock memoirs, Townshend’s stands out for his lack of bitterness toward other members of The Who. He resists the temptation to disparage his bandmates. Given The Who’s colorful history, no doubt he has countless stories that would entertain readers but may embarrass fellow band members. Because this is such a well-crafted and honest memoir, the absence of descriptions of debauchery is not missed. Readers who prefer their musical biographies to be full of name-dropping gossip will not be disappointed, though. He shares numerous stories about Sixties icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger.
Who I Am will be enjoyed by fans of The Who and also readers who are interested in intimate memoirs of artists. Read by Townshend in his distinctly reedy London voice, the audiobook is highly recommended.
Always Looking: Essays on Art, by John Updike, is an invaluable collection of fourteen eloquent discussions that examine Western painting and sculpture. Although Updike was an acclaimed writer of literature, many readers might not know that he was also an art connoisseur. His skillful nonfiction reveals an astute perspective which masterfully dissects art in a way that will gratify the seasoned appreciator, as well as the casual observer who is just curious to learn more.
John Updike’s lifelong passion for visual art began in childhood when discovered comics, like Mickey Mouse in the Treasure Hunt. Into adulthood, he continued to seek out pieces that fascinated him and curiously described familiar pieces in a new way. While considering Gustav Klimt’s "The Dancer", Updike questioned if the painting is “a bold and necessary step in the direction of modernism, or an uneasy half-step, a cheaply bought glamour, a kind of higher kitsch?”
Much more than a conversation of art, Always Looking offers rich and vivid images of the very works Updike is discussing. From René Magritte’s unnervingly sensual "The Lovers" to Roy Lichtenstein’s loud pop of "In the Car", the short essay format makes this a perfect book of leisure. You might dip in for a bit and read on a topic or discover the pleasure of flipping through its pages to take in the richly dynamic selection. This stimulating reconsideration of classics will change the way you look at art.
Audiences continue to be fascinated by the life and work of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. He is the subject of the new theatrical film based on Stephen Rebello’s Hitchcock!: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Rebello begins with the story of Ed Gein, whose grisly crimes inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel Psycho. Hitchcock’s selection of Bloch’s gruesome novel was an abrupt departure from the expected, eliciting doubt from everyone including the studio. When Paramount made it clear that they wouldn’t back Psycho, Hitchcock offered to finance the movie himself if Paramount would distribute the finished product. Rebello pulls together details about the production of the film and explores the public reaction after its record-breaking openings in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago in June 1960. Hitchcock, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Helen Mirren, brings to life Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma and their collaboration during the production of Psycho.
Audiences looking for more Hitchcock will also want to see HBO’s The Girl. The film focuses largely on Hitchcock’s dark and often abusive relationship with Tippi Hedren, leading lady in his iconic films The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock and Hedren, played by Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, create unforgettable films together but at a steep price to Hedren’s well-being.
Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story by Wyclef Jean is both the biography of Jean and the life story of the Fugees, one of the most successful hip-hop & R&B bands of the 1990s. Originally from Haiti, Jean is the son of a pastor and the grandson of a Voodoo priest. In this revealing new memoir, Jean recounts his early life – from his early years in the LaSerre slum to international superstardom in the 1990s. And finally, he describes his humanitarian work in Haiti and his unsuccessful bid for Haiti’s presidency.
After his early childhood in Haiti, he joined his parents in New York, where he was raised by his no-nonsense grandmother, the family matriarch. It took quite some time to get accustomed to his new life in America. He grew up in tough neighborhoods, often ravaged by drugs and guns. He also faced anti-Haitian prejudice throughout his youth in New York. Jean grew up in a very musical (and religious) household. He refers to his family as the “Haitian-American Partridge Family.” Because his father would not allow him to play secular music, his first band was a Christian rock group. He immersed himself in classic funk and rock songs and modified the lyrics so that the resulting song was a Christian one. Once he finally embraced secular music, there was no looking back. As one of the founding members of the Fugees and successful solo artist, Jean has sold millions of records. Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is the story of the Fugees and the recording of their mega-hit, The Score.
He says The Score is essentially the soundtrack of his relationship with Lauryn Hill. Although the relationship ended badly, it became an all-consuming affair that inspired the beautiful, soulful songs on The Score. After the Fugees broke up, Jean set out on his successful solo career, almost ran for the President of Haiti and is now focused on his family and music. Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story is highly recommended to biography readers. but also anyone interested in the history of hip-hop.
Seth Casteel, award-winning pet photographer and animal rights activist, presents amazing images of over eighty dogs in aquatic settings in Underwater Dogs. Each canine has an individual portrait which captures the unique personalities in exuberant action shots chasing a ball. From the human perspective, this game of chase seems simple – ball is thrown, dog retrieves it, and surfaces triumphantly. But beneath the water, there is a major drama playing out complete with bared teeth and arched bodies. From leaping lab to diving dachshund, each dog approaches this game a little differently. Some lounge in the water and paddle slowly, while others are aggressive and shark-like in their focus and determination. Of course, the elegant poodle still manages to maintain an air of refinement even when soaked. Casteel started this project by posting the photos on his blog, and since that time the viewership has surpassed 150 million.
Who doesn’t love puppies? Photographer J. Nichole Smith offers photographs of twenty-five different baby canines in Puppyhood: Life-size Portraits of Puppies at 6 Weeks Old. The coffee table size allows the puppies to be shown in full actual life size at six weeks. These engaging photographs show all the details that make puppies so irresistible, from their pink bellies and tiny teeth to their soft ears and oversize paws. The book features purebred and mixed breed doggies in a variety of puppy pastimes such as sleeping, staring down the photographer, and of course, playing. All of the photographs will have readers yearning for their own puppy to cuddle. And indeed that is part of Smith’s plan, as her epilogue is complete with information on adopting all of the twenty-five pictured pooches, as well as providing contact information for a number of national shelter networks and the breeders of the purebreeds featured in the book.
For the children of the eighties, big hair and make-up ruled the music world. MTV made music visual, and successful artists embraced the music video as both a promotional tool and a method of self-expression. Perhaps no band embodied the visual storytelling of this decade as completely as Duran Duran, Britain’s “other” Fab Five. John Taylor, founding member and bass player, chronicles the band’s career highs and lows with In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran.
While Taylor does venture into the confessional arena, revealing the typical rock-star excesses of sex and drugs, the true pleasure of this biography lies in his first-person account of British music in the seventies and eighties. As a teen in Birmingham, he and friend Nick Bates (later Rhodes) pooled their pence in order to see their idols perform live. Sitting at the proverbial feet of Queen, Bowie, and Roxy Music, they soaked up music like sponges and learned that the look was as vital to the success of the music as the beat. The band that would become Duran Duran was born from these young lessons learned. As they grew into their ruffled shirts, their conceptual lyrics combined with new wave, highly-synthesized music to give birth to the sound known as New Romanticism. Duran Duran was perfectly poised for stardom at the start of the MTV era, and the band created ground-breaking videos that still set the standard today such as “Girls on Film”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Rio.”
In the Pleasure Groove is not a tell-all, nor is it simply an insider’s guide to the biggest names in eighties music. It is a smooth glide through more than twenty years of music history. Fans of eighties music, as well as those of us who were teenagers then, will enjoy reliving the decade’s watershed moments such as Madonna writhing in a wedding gown, and Bob Geldof’s charity extravaganza Live Aid. Perhaps the quietest Duran member, Taylor reveals enough about the band to keep Duranies happy; they will certainly want to read this book more than once.
Tolkien fans, it’s time to travel back to Middle-earth. The first installment in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Hobbit film trilogy is almost here, and the library has two exciting tie-in volumes just in time for the December 14 release. These stylish books complement each other perfectly and will be sure to delight. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Visual Companion begins with a charming foreword by Bilbo Baggins (actor Martin Freeman), and offers an introductory sneak peek at the film’s story. Everything you need to know about hobbits, wizards, dwarves, and elves is here, along with a visual tour of Bilbo’s home of Bag End among other locations. The centerpiece of this book is a detailed fold-out map of Middle-earth, which charts the company’s journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain. Beautiful color photos on almost every page immerse readers into Tolkien’s iconic fantasy universe.
For a behind-the-scenes look at the new film, turn to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Official Movie Guide. This book is bursting with details about every aspect of the film’s production. One fascinating section explores the “breakdown” department, where artists use sandpaper and even blowtorches to make the once-pristine costumes appear aged and worn. Exclusive interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed between the more technical chapters, a touch that keeps the book’s pace fresh and lively. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films will be happy to see that most of the creative team has returned for The Hobbit. Actor Andy Serkis steps behind the camera this time as second unit director, in addition to reprising his role of the tragic creature Gollum.
Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, is a satisfying and poignant account of the girl who just wanted to have fun. But as she writes in this account of her rise to superstardom and ongoing fame, her life has been more than the image she portrayed when she burst onto the international scene in the mid-1980s. Her music, outrageous style, and love of family and friends are represented in a conversational manner. The use of many asides, and the return to topics she had seemingly dropped earlier in chapters makes for a memoir that could be the transcription of a long, chatty visit across a kitchen table with an old friend.
From her beginnings in Queens, New York and the early bands that she sang with, Lauper’s path to stardom began gradually. But when her album “She’s So Unusual” struck a chord with the MTV generation, her stratospheric rise to the top of the pop charts was ensured. A string of hits were powered by memorable videos that seemed inescapable to MTV viewers, and her unmistakable voice made even the casual radio listener take notice. While never again matching the commercial success of her breakthrough album, more hits followed, including “True Colors”. The song later became an anthem for the GLBT community that Lauper has long associated herself with. She does not hesitate to discuss her personal life in detail, including her fond relationships with her family, the heartache of a long-term but eventually ill-fated romance with her one-time manager, and a path to find happiness. Lauper touches on the rivalry that never really existed with Madonna, and wonders how her life would have turned out had she permanently relocated to Australia after a tour there. Frankly written, this memoir shines a light on a celebrity everyone knows superficially but few know well.