Book Cheer: A New Column by the AAP Trade Libraries Committee

Michael Rockliff roots for Tom Nolan's Three Chords for Beauty's Sake
By Michael Rockliff -- Library Journal, 2/4/2010
Welcome to the second installment of our new Book Cheer column, the true story of 12 library marketing directors reviewing one another’s titles. “This,” in the words of creator and inaugural contributor Talia Sherer, “is what happens when marketers stop being polite and start getting real.” AAP committee members submit books to a colleague based on his or her tastes, and that colleague here offers up an unbiased take of a favorite read once a month. It’s prepub notice coupled with readers' advisory, but most of all, it's a book cheer, rah-rahs for deserving printed words.—Heather McCormack
Name: Michael Rockliff. To view a sample of Michael’s monthly e-letter featuring news about upcoming books from the Workman family of imprints, stories about the publishing world, libraries internationally, and whatever happens to stick in his fevered brain at that particular moment, contact him at He won’t sign you up unless you ask.

Title: Director of Library Sales and Marketing, Workman Publishing Company

Favorite Genres: Fiction that’s rich in language, music, theater, and early 20th-century humor
All-Time Favorites: Jorge Amado's Gabriella, Clove & Cinnamon; all the Don Camillo books by Giovanni Guareschi; Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels (the best novel ever on bookselling); absolutely anything that Robert Benchley, Beverley Nichols, John Cheever, and Oscar Levant ever wrote; Erskine Caldwell's God’s Little Acre. The rest of the list would take up the entire column (and more), so we’ll leave it there.
The Winner: When I was growing up, my father and I argued about everything, absolutely everything, including who had the better jazz chops, Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw. Silly, in retrospect, but we felt the issue passionately. Needless to say, I was primed and ready when my copy of Tom Nolan's Three Chords for Beauty's Sake arrived. Putting on Shaw’s exquisite 1954 chamber jazz recordings, I poured a chardonnay and settled in for the evening.

Particularly with Shaw—who is known almost as much for his multiple marriages to some of the most glamorous women of our time as for his musical accomplishments—it would be all too easy to become distracted by the headlines and his notoriously bad behavior and forget that Shaw was ultimately defined by his art. His art, in turn, was defined by his quest for absolute perfection. This, in fact, could well be considered the theme of Three Chords, as Nolan repeatedly returns to this trope both in interviews with those who knew him (for better or for worse; often both) and in his own assessment of the man and the musician.
Readers learn that Shaw could be immensely charming or extremely cruel, with the shift being shockingly abrupt. Friends of long standing, and even family, would find themselves forever shut out, for having said something at which Shaw took umbrage. "Artie was probably the most egocentric person I’ve ever known…. he didn’t have the ability to sort of shift gears, and get out of himself," said his son, Jonathan…,"and that made him a deeply unhappy man."
As Nolan reveals, the same quality that made Shaw impossible to live with also made for some of the most daring and innovative sounds of the swing era. He wasn’t the only bandleader to experiment with strings or classical influences. His friend Claude Thornhill did so to great effect. Paul Whiteman had done it even earlier. The music that Shaw made was immensely more subtle than Whiteman’s, however, and Thornhill made no pretensions to swinging. Shaw's reputation as the Hamlet of jazz was well earned. Nolan has successfully captured this most elusive of swing-era figures: an immensely complicated, contradictory, and, ultimately, confounding individual.

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