Smilla's Sense of Snow
by Peter Hoeg (Delta/1995)

A fascinating but ponderous story, beautifully written.

Mixing the lurid premise of a rich mystery thriller with the genuine class of a literate novel, Peter Hoeg immediately captured this reader's attention with the title character. Smilla is a strong-willed, bright, intuitive and deeply sensitive woman (and tries to prove she's anything but) who develops an obsession with the strange death of a neighbor boy who, she's surprised to discover, has had deep impact on her life. Smilla is one of the strongest, most interesting women characters in contemporary literature. Her story is provocative and her need to know what happened to the young boy, Isaiah, is infectious. When her story takes her improbably to "The Sea," much of the mystery's fascination sails away with her. Hoeg's beautiful writing (and on-target homilies), fortunately, remains. But the last half of the book is rough sailing and the conclusion can't satisfy too many people -- including Smilla, who finally finds what she's searching for. Perhaps that's Hoeg's point. You don't have to be smart or literate to appreciate this novel, but Hoeg manages to create a multi-textured world of spirits that will appeal to many levels of different readers.

The Conquest of Cool
by Thomas Frank (University of Chicago Press)

An interesting look at the origins of "hip" as a sales tool.

In The Conquest of Cool, reporter Thomas Frank writes of the evolution in the advertising industry from the rigid science and philosophy espoused by past masters like David Ogilvy to the creative, rule-breaking, no-rules era (about 1959 to about 1970) begun by Doyle, Dane and Bernbach's revolutionary Volkswagen print ads, which were introduced in 1959. Frank's text shows how advertising's images of consumption evolved from phony promises of a better life for white, nuclear families to the hip-based brand of product cool that still exists today. Eventually, Frank gets to what this reader assumed to be his point: advertising's co-optation of counterculture's cool and the way both groups influenced each other. But he merely asserts this radical shift in advertising (truly the bellwether of contemporary culture) happened overnight and illustrates his points with examples from the cola and menswear industries. But rampant generalization doesn't spoil Frank's fascinating dissertation. He's done his homework, speaks passionately about his subject and maintains an unusual conversational approach (half academic, half deranged fan). Once the reader forgives Frank's multitude of overgeneralizations and the way he casually mixes media (in an era where distinctions became quite noticeable), there is actually a lot to consider and much to enjoy in The Conquest of Cool. A special bonus for ad-addicts is the 19 print ads reproduced in the center of the book.

The Color Of Jazz
Pete Turner (Rizzoli)

Jazz never looked so beautiful...

For some, the visual appeal of an album cover exceeds – even outlasts – the allure of the music within.  At least as far back as the advent of the 12-inch long-playing records in the mid 1950s, record companies have attempted to draw us to music by relying on the fact that, indeed, we will judge an album by its cover. By the 1960s album covers were increasingly an art form itself.

If the art form wasn’t created by Pete Turner – a distinction which may belong to Josef Albers, whose work graces a scant few Enoch Light albums – it was certainly enhanced by it. Pete Turner’s photography has graced some of the best and most important jazz album covers made over the last half-century.

His work stands apart from the music as great art itself. It’s not uncommon to hear albums described solely by Turners iconic photography: “The Giraffe album (Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave”), “The Icicles album (Paul Desmond’s “Summertime”), “The Cannonball” album (Hubert Laws’s “Afro-Classic”) or “The Cheetah” album (Hubert Law’s “The Right Of Spring”). Each is striking.  Each is important to the visual history of recorded sound.

”The Color Of Jazz” collects many of these album covers and shows why a Pete Turner album always stood out in any record store and, more importantly, as part of any record collection. The colors just jump off the page, a tribute to Will Hopkins and Mary K. Baumann’s outstanding design.

There’s a visual poetry in these images, expertly framed as they were on the original albums by Sam Antupit and Bob Ciano. It’s a music you can see and, like jazz, there’s a creativity, originality and improvisation that you can feel.

It’s not merely a book of photography and it’s much more than an album cover book. It’s a celebration of the way art affects all the senses. Pete Turner knows how to use a camera to tap the soul. Just like jazz. “The Color Of Jazz” is a beautiful book that makes music from the page.