Why does the sinking of the Titanic continue to fascinate? What went wrong with acclaimed director Julie Taymor’s attempt to bring the comic book hero Spiderman to the Broadway stage? What can we learn from Anne Carson’s—and others’—translations of Sappho? Why do we love the television show Mad Men (hint: it’s not at all for the reasons you think). From Greek mythology to contemporary writers to pop culture, Mendelsohn’s insightful, delightful, and occasionally divisive essays ferret the low-brow and high-brow, revealing that the gulf between the two types is smaller than we often assume.
In Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (Harper Design, $35), Judith Watt presents an illustrated biography of one of fashion’s greatest contemporary designers, a man with enormous vision who was challenged by personal demons. Watt shows how McQueen, the youngest son of a taxi driver and a teacher, was a man of contradictions— tenacious yet uncertain in his ambitions, charming yet a compulsive liar who delighted and encouraged the many apocryphal stories that surrounded him—and reveals how McQueen’s designs reflect a similar tension between extremes. Known for his flamboyant and theatrical runways, McQueen pushed himself to create new silhouettes and to combine fabrics and styles in innovative and avant-garde ways. From bumster pants to the Armadillo shoe, Watt’s intimate portrait proves that McQueen’s impact on contemporary fashion design is undisputed.
Nearly all the nine stories in Junot Díaz’s National Book Award-nominated collection center on Yunior, Díaz’s literary alter ego, a clumsy cheater and desperate-to-please lover who burns through girlfriends the way runners burn through oxygen. From Miss Lora—a teacher at his high school—to the overly romantic Magda to the artistic Alma, Yunior learns This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead, $26.95): by two-timing, by lying, by being too Dominican, by not being Dominican enough. Yunior picks up tips on relationships from his libertine older brother, Rafa, who adopted the values of the brothers’ duplicitous, controlling father. Alas, the women in Yunior’s world ultimately prove to need Yunior far less than he needs them. Díaz, a recently named MacArthur genius, deftly braids socio-economic and identity issues into each story’s tiny universe; his stories mirror our own jumbled, complex, and complicated world.