5 HOT BOOKS: Tony Bennett on Great Artists, an Iconic Cartoonist, and More

Here are five books people are talking about this week – or should be:

1. Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand (Harper)

Krazy Kat, the popular comic strip involving a white mouse and a black cat, appeared for more than three decades in American newspapers, from 1913 into the 1940s. Herriman, the strip’s ingenious creator, is the subject of Tisserand’s fascinating, deeply researched – and beautifully designed-- biography, which is enhanced by many images from the classic strip. The story itself is a rich one: darkly complexioned Herriman, who was known as “the Greek,” was actually African-American. He began his life in the Creole elite of New Orleans, and worked in newspapers before developing his clever strip of gender-neutral animals in a Southwest desert.  It is not hard, when reading Tisserand’s account, to see a wide variety of ways in which Herriman’s unusual background found itself expressed in his iconic – and iconoclastic – work of pop culture.

2. Just Getting Started by Tony Bennett and Scott Simon (Harper)

In this collaboration with Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, legendary crooner Bennett shares inspiration and lessons learned through his relationships with fellow legends like Charlie Chaplin, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne – and more contemporary luminaries, such as like Lady Gaga. Bennett salutes family members, famous figures from history like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, and favorite places, including Queens, N.Y. and, unsurprisingly, San Francisco. Bennett’s voice comes through strongly, but Simon’s handiwork is also in evidence in this charming book, which should be placed on a shelf beside Simon’s own wondrous memoir about his mother, Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime.

3. How Will I Know You?  by Jessica Treadway (Grand Central)

Treadway has a special talent for psychologically complex and suspenseful novels built on her keen insights into teenagers and parents.  Her new novel involves a violent act – an adolescent killed in a bleak upstate New York town – and its emotional velocity comes from her vivid, complicated characters. Told from four different perspectives – the girl’s mother, her best friend, a suspect, and the son-in-law of the police chief – and frequently out of sequence, Treadway’s rich narrative deftly exposes the fault lines that exist within communities and families.

4. Being Elvis: A Lonely Life by Ray Connolly. (Liveright)

With the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death fast approaching, Connolly – a London-based journalist who has interviewed many rock stars, including “The King” – has written a sympathetic, yet clear, account of Presley’s life. Connolly traces the upward arc of Elvis’s career, from his hardscrabble childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi, to the opulence of Graceland.  He is unsparing in his depiction of the star’s failed relationships and penchant for self-destruction – and his vulnerability to the machinations of his manager, “Colonel’ Tom Parker. Keenly perceptive about American culture, Connolly insightfully explains how the supremely talented but ultimately enigmatic Presley became an icon at a moment of American social transformation.

5. A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt (Simon & Schuster)

Hustvedt has been recognized for her brilliant and provocative fiction – her novel The Blazing World was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.  Now, she has released an acclaim-worthy collection of essays, which elegantly fuse art, biology, science, and psychology, among other disciplines. A feminist, and a lecturer in psychiatry at Weill Medical School of Cornell University, Hustvedt divides this new book into three parts: the first, which lends the book its title, involves art figures from Picasso and Louise Bourgeois to Susan Sontag and Karl Ove Knausgaard, with a particular take-down of the Norwegian author; the second, “The Delusions of Certainty,” considers the time-honored mind-body problem; and finally, in perhaps the most absorbing and profound section, “What Are We? Lectures on the Human Condition,” the author considers neurology, hysteria, and suicide.