The week in books

May 14, 2009

Tenor: History of a Voice by John Potter, vocal studies MA course leader, University of York. Yale University Press, £20.00, ISBN 9780300118735

"If you are looking for an opera fan's guide to top romantic tenors, Potter's book is not for you. Although a tenor himself with a distinguished career in the Hilliard Ensemble and an academic at York University, he offers no hot opinions and devotes a mere half-page to Luciano Pavarotti. He does provide essential information about virtually every tenor who has made a mark in the recording era, but his compass ranges far wider and deeper than our modern conception of a tenor voice."

Andrew Clark, Financial Times

Chaplin's Girl: The Life and Loves of Virginia Cherrill by Miranda Seymour, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Simon and Schuster, £15.99, ISBN 9781847371256

"Can a biographical subject cast a spell of lovey-doveyness over a sensible writer who never met them? On the evidence of Chaplin's Girl, the answer is yes, and the result is a highly unusual showbiz biography in which no rakeable muck goes unsmoothed-over, no awkward counter-evidence goes unsuppressed. If a lot of the girls who turned up in Hollywood in the 1920s couldn't tell 'shit from Shinola', Cherrill wasn't one of them. On the subject of romance, in particular, she was strikingly pragmatic, having observed her own parents' inadequate marriage at close range. 'When a romantic situation becomes untender, I get the hell out,' she is quoted as saying. And on another occasion: 'I never, ever went to bed with a man whose wife would have objected.'"

Lynne Truss, The Sunday Times

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman, assistant professor in the department of neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine. Canongate, £9.99, ISBN 97818476742

"David Eagleman, an American neuroscientist, has now come up with 40 intriguing tales describing different heavenly scenarios. None is over three pages long and all are formidably imagined. Fundamentalists will find nothing to recognise here, but other readers may discover much to appreciate - not least the lives they are living now, still so much better than some nightmares in these pages."

Nicholas Tucker, The Independent

The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists by Helen Carr, emeritus professor of English, Goldsmiths, University of London. Jonathan Cape, £30.00, ISBN 9780224040303

"Although the popular press of the day usually treated them as silly fads or five-minute wonders, most of the artistic movements of the early 20th century have proved surprisingly durable. But the reputation of 'imagism' has not thrived nearly so well, and for obvious reasons. Imagism lasted for less than a decade, reaching its peak in the war years of 1914-17; the scope and nature of its legacy remain a matter for debate. Was it, as the papers sneered, the minor stunt of a few deservedly obscure literati on the make? Or was it a full-blown literary revolution, as the title of Carr's huge, unprecedentedly detailed study suggests?"

Kevin Jackson, The Sunday Times.

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