Synopses & Reviews
From an acclaimed cultural critic, a narrative and social history of the Great American Songwriting era.
Everybody knows and loves the American Songbook. But its a bit less widely understood that in about 1950, this stream of great songs more or less dried up. All of a sudden, what came over the radio wasnt Gershwin, Porter, and Berlin, but Come on-a My House” and How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” Elvis and rock and roll arrived a few years later, and at that point the game was truly up. What happened, and why? In The B Side, acclaimed cultural historian Ben Yagoda answers those questions in a fascinating piece of detective work. Drawing on previously untapped archival sources and on scores of interviewsthe voices include Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb, Linda Ronstadt, and Herb Alpertthe book illuminates broad musical trends through a series of intertwined stories. Among them are the battle between ASCAP and Broadcast Music, Inc.; the revolution in jazz after World War II; the impact of radio and then television; and the bitter, decades-long feud between Mitch Miller and Frank Sinatra.
The B Side is about taste, and the particular economics and culture of songwriting, and the potential of popular art for greatness and beauty. Its destined to become a classic of American musical history.
Praise for Memoir: A History
"Spirited... Yagoda's incisive exploration is a worthy study of a genre that even now cannot completely be defined." -- Los Angeles Times
“Perceptive, thorough, and amusing.”-- New York Magazine
“This idea-driven cultural criticism leads to all kinds of interesting places.” -- Christian Science Monitor
“Ben Yagoda is one of the most subtle—and entertaining—writers about writing one can find. His history of the memoir reads between the lines—and the lies—with illuminating precision.” —Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and The Shakespeare Wars
“We owe Ben Yagoda such a huge debt of thanks: his witty, comprehensive, and insightful ‘biography’ of the form reminds us why the memoir matters – and will continue to matter as long as humans think, read, and write. This is literary criticism at its lively best.” —David Friedman, author of A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis and The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever
“A shrewd and witty history of memoir sweeps us from Julius Caesar to James Frey. Our guide, Ben Yagoda, is always fine company, with just the right word, kindly good judgment, and another great story coming up on the next page. It's a splendid journey.” —Richard Ben Cramer, author of Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life and How Israel Lost: The Four Questions
"Fascinating… With its mixture of literary criticism, cultural history and just enough trivia, Yagoda’s survey is sure to appeal to scholars and bibliophiles alike.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Praise for The B Side
“Wow, what a piece of work! I love it. The B Side is A PLUS.” — Dave Frishberg
“A provocative, consistently engaging counternarrative to the conventional wisdom that rock 'n' roll killed Tin Pan Alley.” — Kirkus Reviews
"A great many books celebrate the pre-rock Great American Songbook. Ben Yagodas highly original and shrewdly argued The B-Side isnt one of them. It tells how the Songbook emerged, but is more intent on dissecting its meretricious demise, and the way a new songbook emerged from the rubble. It is anecdotal, illuminating, and persuasive." — Gary Giddins, author of Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams and Visions of Jazz
"[The B Side is] an entertaining and thoroughly researched exploration of Americas songwriting history. With deftness of pen and skill, Yagoda has produced a work that will appeal to both musicologists and fans." — Library Journal
"Essayist Yagoda energetically conducts a journey through the development of popular music in this vibrant piece of cultural history” — Publishers Weekly
“Actually, this wonderful chronicle is a B-side. . .This will be one big revelation for anyone steeped in a rock-centric understanding of pop history, and validation for those who treasure the Songbook in all its glory. And since these songs comprise so many strains of Americas cultural DNA, everyone stands to walk away from this richly told saga with not only a song in her/his heart, but also fresh knowledge about how it got there.” — PopMatters
Praise for Ben Yagoda:
“All hail to Ben Yagoda!” - Cynthia Ozick
“[He] is his own walking billboard for the joys of imaginative, precise, and fresh language usage.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPRs Fresh Air
“Hes witty and erudite and unafraid to read between the lines of his interviewees pronouncements.”—Ron Rosenbaum
“Yagoda . . . is blessed with a genius for apt quotation.”—John Leonard
“Ben Yagoda is always fine company, with just the right word, kindly good judgment, and another great story coming up on the next page.” —Richard Ben Cramer
From Augustine's Confessions
to Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors
, from Julius Caesar to Ulysses S. Grant, from Mark Twain to David Sedaris, the art of memoir has had a fascinating life, and deserves its own biography. "As Yagoda says: 'Memoir has become the central form of the culture: not only the way stories are told, but the way arguments are put forth, products and properties marketed, ideas floated, acts justified, reputations constructed or salvaged. How did we come to this pass? The only way to answer that question is to go back a couple of thousand years and tell the story from the beginning,'" which is just what Yagoda does in this "excellent" history (The Washington Post
From Saint Augustine's "Confessions" to Augusten Burroughs's "Running with Scissors," the art of memoir has had a fascinating life. Yagoda, a critically acclaimed cultural and literary critic, offers the definitive history and analysis of the memoir.
How to Not Write Bad
uses this basic tenet — what Ben Yagoda calls “not-writing-badly” — to illustrate how we can all write better, clearer, and for a wider readership. Yagoda offers advice on crafting sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction, punctuation, and grammar and that display clarity, precision, and grace. He then moves on to the art of constructing whole paragraphs—focusing on cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, sentence transitions, and length.
In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps that we all can take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better. As “lolspeak” and texts take over our linguistic consciousness, Yagoda emphasizes the lost art of grammar and the well-constructed sentence. He provides clear grammatical rules to help students and writers everywhere write better; this is a book for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing.
Ben Yagoda's How to Not Write Bad illustrates how we can all write better, more clearly, and for a wider readership.
He offers advice on what he calls "not-writing-badly," which consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that also display clarity, precision, and grace. Then he focuses on crafting whole paragraphswith attention to cadence, consistency of tone, sentence transitions, and paragraph length.
In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps we can all take to make our writing more effective, more interestingand just plain better.
About the Author
Ben Yagoda is a journalism professor at the University of Delaware. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of ten books, including Memoir: A History, Will Rogers: A Biography, and When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, and has written for Slate, The New York Times Magazine, and publications that start with every letter of the alphabet except J, K, Q, X, and Z. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife.