“The breadth, scope and ingenuity of this work by a single entity is unprecedented in Broadway history,” notes the foreword of Drew Hodges’ On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution (Rizzoli, $45. www.spotnyc.com). Does it describe writer-director Lin-Manuel Miranda? Composer Stephen Sondheim? Leading ladies Chita Rivera or Angela Lansbury? Nope. The writer of this superlative-slinging intro is the publishing industry’s most acclaimed graphic designer, Chip Kidd. His subject is SpotCo, the advertising agency founded by Hodges that has become the most influential creator of theater posters and marketing campaigns. The book, a gorgeously designed piece of work in itself, is not only a catalog of SpotCo’s greatest hits but a collection of glimpses behind the graphic curtain, insights about the creative thought process that goes into the creation of each campaign. We learn that The Laramie Project’s big-sky highway vista was intended to evoke a “Portrait of an American town and a place; Fun Home was presented as an “Astonishingly reviewed father-daughter friendship musical” rather than a “Funeral home lesbian musical.” The book features not just final art, but alternate design concepts for most of the shows included, revealing sometimes brilliant roads not traveled. From the sexy film noir-styled photography that set the tone for Chicago to the glittery red footwear K of Kinky Boots, the pages of this book capture a unique neon-lit ingenuity.
Broadway veteran, activist, and playwright Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart, The Destiny of Me) published one of the twentieth century’s most controversial gay-themed novels, Faggots, back in 1978. His long-in-the-writing second book of fiction The American People: Volume 1, Search for My Heart (Picador, $20. www.picadorusa.com) arrived last year and has just been published in paperback. The notion of national controversy over a novel may be quaint now, but there’s certainly fodder for debate in Kramer’s crazy quilt of satire, soul-searching, and self-fulfilling prophecy, in which all of American history, from pre-Columbian natives to J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s, is reviewed with a gimlet eye through a gay lens. A member of the “Assume everyone’s gay unless they say otherwise—and even then, don’t be so sure”–school of thought, Kramer offers up George Washington and Alexander Hamilton as lovers, a Lewis who lusts after Clark’s bar, and a Ben Franklin who generates electricity in a Parisian bathhouse. Raunchy, angry, and laugh-out-loud funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), this kaleidoscopic doorstopper is 775 pages of wisdom crossed with wackadoodle.
Do you enjoy traveling without thinking? Packaged vacations on which almost every detail of your itinerary is safely pre-determined by someone other than yourself? Ticking off the boxes on an official list of must-see sites? Then perhaps you’re the audience for The Ultimate Travel Coloring Book (Lonely Planet, $14.99. www.lonelyplanet.com), a mystifying invitation to stay between the lines from a travel publisher known for heading off the beaten path. A hundred iconic tourist locations are presented in outline drawings derived from photographs, and printed on paper stock amenable to colored pencils (or the world’s sharpest crayons). Imagine the thrill of taking your burnt umber Crayola to the Pyramids of Giza, or cleverly coloring Yellowstone Park in yellow. Yes, there are theories about the soothing, stress-relieving value of coloring books for adults. I have another theory: Adults who like to color deserve a volume that features line drawings of overweight sun- burn victims on pool rafts, and cocktail goblets garnished with pineapple spears and paper umbrellas. That said, if there’s a six-year-old you’d like to fill with wanderlust, or you have a homebound relative you’re interested in torturing, have I got a gift for you!
Lonely Planet corrects its course with The World’s Best Drinks: Where to Find Them and How to Make Them ($14.99. www.lonelyplanet.com), which will get armchair travelers out of the Lazy Boy and onto the bar stool. Paired with a bottle of booze, it will make the perfect host gift on a weekend at a friend’s place this summer. Terrific historical tidbits (Who knew that rum has its origins not in the Carribean, but in China?) are paired with recipes from around the globe including a rummy Jamaican hibiscus ginger punch, a dark and stormy, and a mai tai. Concise primers on the cultural heritage and manufacture of gin, tequila, whisky, wine, and beer, whistle-wetting photographs, and tipplers’ trivia round out this well-balanced volume. There’s even a selection of non-alcoholic sips, from Indian mango lassi to an anise-infused milk drink from Holland.
AIRPLANE READ OF THE MONTH
Twenty five years ago, Ira Levin, author of The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil published a prescient little thriller called Sliver (later a film starring Sharon Stone) about the misuse of surveillance technology in a luxury New York highrise.That premise is updated and rendered in breathless, blood-soaked prose in Security (Algonquin Books, $25.95. www.algonquin.com), a gutsy first novel by Gina Wohlsdorf set at Manderley, a luxury hotel and resort offering the ultimate in privacy and privilege to A-list travelers. As hotel manager Tessa and her team prepare for the resort’s grand opening, mayhem is unleashed by a squad of ruthless murderers and observed by a mysterious narrator whose identity remains tantalizingly under wraps for more than half of the book. The motives behind the horrific invasion, the trauma-wrenched personal lives of the staff, and the behind-the-scenes workings of a luxury resort are whipped into a page-turning froth. Wohlsdorf goes a bit overboard with a formal device in which blocks of text are occasionally presented in parallel columns to simulate surveillance on multiple monitors, but the story is nonetheless easy to follow, and hard to put down.