Feature

Also of interest…in offbeat histories

Squeeze This!; Taco USA; Fat, Drunk, and Stupid; Banzai Babe Ruth

Squeeze This!by Marion Jacobson (Univ. of Illinois, $30)By rights, a book devoted to the accordion should be “as flat as a boxed set of Lawrence Welk’s ‘champagne music,’” said Ken Emerson in The Wall Street Journal. But Marion Jacobson’s account of the squeeze-box’s history in the U.S. “bubbles over with fascinating information and intriguing insights.” Get beyond the accordion’s “cornball” post-1960s reputation, Jacobson argues, and you may discover a stealth sexiness that has seduced artists from Bruce Springsteen to Sheryl Crow.

Taco USA by Gustavo Arellano (Scribner, $25)“If you fancy yourself an ambassador of authentic Mexican food, Gustavo Arellano will put you in your place right quick,” said L.V. Anderson in Slate.com. According to this “tasty but not-quite-satisfying” history, every dish we call Mexican was invented in America. But Arellano is okay with that, exhibiting “a soft spot” even for the goofiest Mexican-American hybrid fare. The book’s big weakness is that it flits from fact to fact without bringing them together into an engaging argument. 

Fat, Drunk, and Stupidby Matty Simmons (St. Martin’s, $26) There can be no doubt that the 1978 film Animal House deserves its own book, said Douglass K. Daniel in the Associated Press. Thirty-five years later, the movie’s “bitingly satirical” sensibility is ingrained in the culture. But while co-producer Matty Simmons seasons his book with interesting tidbits—including that Dragnet’s Jack Webb turned down the role of Dean Wormer—he writes like the project’s co-producer. Never does Simmons bring a critic’s eye to the movie’s strengths, weaknesses, and legacy.

Banzai Babe Ruthby Robert K. Fitts (Univ. of Nebraska, $35)This “fascinatingly told tale” re-creates a blockbuster 1934 tour of Japan by an all-star U.S. squad, said James Bailey in Baseball America. Led by Babe Ruth, the Americans took Japan by storm, selling out stadiums as the declining Sultan of Swat regained his hitting prowess. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor several years later, Ruth felt personally betrayed, and tore up his apartment in anger. A shared affinity for baseball couldn’t prevent war, but author Robert Fitts shows how eventually it helped restore peace. 

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