Song Yet Sung (Riverhead)
The envelope please… The 2010 Academy Award for Best Actress goes to Halle Berry for Song Yet Sung. And Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, might go to Berry's fellow cast members, Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively. That's just wishful thinking. Although a film adaptation of James McBride's recent novel isn't yet in the works, it's easy to imagine the characters in this book coming alive on the silver screen. Based on historical events and set in Dorchester County, the story involves a runaway slave named Liz Spocott—an attractive, Harriet Tubman-esque character—with a pair of rival slave catchers, Patty Cannon and Denwood Long, on her trail. Cannon, a name known to anyone familiar with Eastern Shore folklore, charismatically leads a gang of criminals, while Denwood comes out of retirement to track the elusive Liz. McBride develops these characters within the complex social fabric of 1850, a time when even the simplest interactions—between black and white, male and female, farmer and waterman, slave and free, young and old—were charged with meaning. Even McBride's landscape is shot through with similar significance, as the characters navigate the borderlands of North and South. It's an excellent story, and in the hands of the right film director…
Daniel Mark Epstein
The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage (Ballantine)
Fox News recently referred to the Lincoln-Douglas debates during a broadcast and used a photo of Frederick Douglass (instead of Stephen Douglas) as a graphic. How that actually made it on the air is beyond me, but someone should give the folks at Fox a copy of this book, because Epstein brings the Lincoln story to life in unforgettable ways. Drawing heavily upon correspondence between Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Todd, as well as letters from family, friends, and associates, Epstein writes an extraordinarily detailed account of the Lincolns' relationship and never loses sight of the larger historical context in which it unfolded. Along the way, Epstein restores the Lincolns' humanity by stripping away the myths and showing us how they actually lived their lives. Unlike most historians, he doesn't tell us how they reshaped our world so much as he shows them walking through theirs. As a result, the people around the Lincolns also become more human and memorable. And I'd wager that readers of this book will never confuse an abolitionist/former slave for a U.S. Senator who supported the Dred Scott Decision.
Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips
Graphic Design: The New Basics (Princeton Architectural Press)
Warning: Ellen Lupton's books will make you want to be a graphic designer. Like her two previous efforts (D.I.Y. and D.I.Y. Kids), this book inspires thoughts of career change, or, at the very least, creating your own visual language. Featuring lots of work from Lupton's and Phillips's MICA students, it's also something of a calling card for the school.