THE MAGIC MAKER

A longtime collaborator provides an appealing portrayal of John Meredith Langstaff (1920–2005), the talented and passionate musician, charismatic performer and tireless researcher who created the combination of song, dance and drama known as The Revels.

The first Christmas Revels in Cambridge, Mass., in 1971, was an entertainment with medieval roots and a winter solstice theme grown from Langstaff’s interests in folk music and traditional dance. With his daughter Carol and other associates, he went on to develop community and seasonal celebrations of many different traditions and subjects. In nine more cities, from New England to the Puget Sound, professional and amateur musicians, children and adults, joined to offer annual performances combining mythic elements, ritual and enthusiastic audience participation. Cooper (Victory, 2006, etc.), the Newbery-winning author of The Dark Is Rising series, was a partner in many of Langstaff’s projects. Describing herself as “John's tame writer for fifteen years,” she explains that, late in life, he asked her to help him write a personal history going back to his choirboy childhood. Unfortunately, Langstaff died before they could complete their joint effort. For this “posthumous present to a friend,” she has interviewed colleagues and scoured her subject’s papers to produce a short, gracious and highly readable story of a man and an institution. Beginning with his early years in a family whose annual Christmas carol parties began before he was born, she covers his musical education, service and combat wound in World War II, teaching, performing and process of turning folksongs into children’s books. The second half of her narrative is a history of the Revels. This is a selective rather than exhaustive account, with well-chosen examples and quotations that convey the breadth and appeal of an extraordinary man. A loving remembrance and a special gift for all who have encountered Langstaff and his performances.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5040-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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A compellingly investigated, relentlessly gloomy report on the drug distribution industry.

DREAMLAND

Discouraging, unflinching dispatches from America’s enduring opiate-abuse epidemic.

Veteran freelance journalist Quinones (Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration, 2007, etc.) cogently captures the essence of the festering war on drugs throughout the 1990s. He focuses on the market for black tar heroin, a cheap, potent, semiprocessed drug smuggled into the United States from Nayarit, a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The author charts its dissemination throughout American heartland cities like Columbus and Portsmouth, Ohio, home to a huge, family-friendly swimming pool named Dreamland, which closed in 1993, after which opiates “made easy work of a landscape stripped of any communal girding.” Assembling history through varying locales and personal portraits, Quinones follows a palpable trail of heartbreak, misery and the eventual demise of seemingly harmless people “shape-shifted into lying, thieving slaves to an unseen molecule.” The author provides an insider’s glimpse into the drug trade machine, examining the evolution of medical narcotic destigmatization, the OxyContin-heroin correlation and the machinations of manipulative pharmaceutical companies. His profiles include a West Virginia father burying his overdosed son, a diabolically resourceful drug dealer dubbed “the Man,” and “Enrique,” a Mexican citizen who entered the drug trade as a dealer for his uncle at 14. Perhaps most intriguing is the author’s vivid dissection of the “cross-cultural heroin deal,” consisting of an interconnected, hive-minded “retail system” of telephone operators, dealers (popularly known as the “Xalisco Boys”) and customers; everything is efficiently and covertly marketed “like a pizza delivery service” and franchised nationwide with precision. The author’s text, the result of a five-year endeavor of remote research and in-person interviews, offers a sweeping vantage point of the nation’s ever expanding drug problem. Though initially disjointed, these frustrating and undeniably disheartening scenarios eventually dovetail into a disturbing tapestry of abuse, addiction and death. Thankfully, for a fortunate few, rebirth is possible.

A compellingly investigated, relentlessly gloomy report on the drug distribution industry.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1620402504

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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TEMPERAMENTS

ARTISTS FACING THEIR WORK

For The New Yorker, Hofstadter has taken over the role Calvin Tomkins used to fill—as art chronicler: half critic/half profile- maker. And at this he is very, very good. In the five long pieces collected here—about Jean Helion, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Avigdor Arikha, David Bomberg and the subsequent generation of London painters (Kossof, Kitaj, etc.), and Richard Diebenkorn—he almost negligently scatters brilliant associational perceptions (why, for example, Cartier-Bresson the photojournalist was hardly different from C-B the surrealist: the same ``cretinous voyaging'') while being cannier than most art writers about the varieties and dilemmas—glorious both—of representational painting. He also writes (occasionally he posturingly overwrites) with a genuinely beautiful style. But what is a little disconcerting is the form of the articles: Hofstadter seems to appear in the company of the artists he writes about here not exactly as a journalist but as an instant intimate or friend; there is an air of relaxed offhandedness (``I got to know Richard Diebenkorn in 1986, a few years before he and his wife, Phyllis, moved from Santa Monica to Healdsburg, in northern California. Dick was already sixty-five then but a lot of his strict, formal, well-to-do Protestant background still showed''). This self-conscious relaxation of role carries over as well into what he has to say about the painters: He has scorn finally for the Londoners (``dungeon masters'') on account of their all-or-nothing aesthetic neuroticism and battles with life, while reserving his highest admiration for the artist who, like Diebenkorn, is serious without solemnity. Deflation of high artistic pretension and behavior in favor of pragmatic dilution always has been, editorially, a New Yorker stock-in-trade—and Hofstadter is particularly good at it. But the attractiveness of the interesting men (and most often quite interesting artists too) that he writes about seems finally more about personal style than art.

Pub Date: April 7, 1992

ISBN: 0-395-58111-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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