Eminent Hipsters

This slim volume by one of the founding members of Steely Dan includes ten short essays and an extended road journal. The book is tailor-made for one of three audiences: fans of Steely Dan, folks of  “a certain age,” and lovers of jazz.

The ten essays are a joy to read. Nostalgic and funny, they cover everything from the vocal stylings of the early (and relatively unknown) girl singers, The Boswell Sisters, to memories of Jean Shephard and other New York radio shows. The road journal, recorded by Fagen during a tour of his side project, The Dukes of September, as a disappointment. Vitriolic at times, angry at others, Fagen disdains venues, audiences, and the road in general. The Dukes—Fagen, Michael McDonald (of Doobie Brothers fame), and Boz Scaggs—sound more interested in playing great music than in pleasing audiences, and Fagen is quick to note his displeasure with those who attend the shows only waiting for the three to play their “hits.”

Overall, I recommend this volume, if only for the ten essays which are interesting as the reminiscences of a significant musical figure of our time. They are also educational—for those interested in jazz, Fagen has some new names for us.

Donald Fagen, Eminent Hipsters. New York: Viking, 2013. 160pp. $26.95.

Home Truths

This short novel by the great British novelist David Lodge is actually an adaptation by Lodge of a play of the same title. It reads almost like an update of Allbee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The issues here, however, are fame and the obsessive celebrity culture of our time. The dialogue is quick, sharp, and witty, as one would expect from Lodge, and about half-way through I was able to forget that it was adapted from the stage. By the end, I was hooked. I won’t spoil the ending, but I did see it coming about ten pages from its reveal.

David Lodge, Home Truths: A Novella. London: Secker and Warburg, 1999. Available in the US as a Penguin, 978-0140291803, $12, 128 pp.

Paradise, New York

This novel, published in 1998, is an insightful and insider look at the life of Jewish-Americans in the Catskills in the 1970s. Lots of inside jokes here, so if you were a bungalow kid or went to the Concord in the 1970s, this book is for you. If not, much of it will not connect for you. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable read by the director of the writing program at the University of Michigan. Pollack’s other work, including a very well-received volume of short stories, also treats the “Jewish-American” theme, but I think this novel does a splendid job of conveying the warmth, the hope, and the fun of “the mountains” in the 1970s. The story of Lucy Applebaum trying to save her family’s Catskill hotel, the Garden of Eden, the novel includes some nice twists and turns, enough to conclude with a somewhat surprise ending.

Eileen Pollack, Paradise, New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. 251pp. 978-1566397896. 23.95.