This is looking to be another rollicking year for nonfiction.
Tanya Lee Stone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BARBIE is an easily engaging, broad and provocative perspective on the history and cultural currency of Barbie. Of note is how different Stone’s authorial voice is in this title as compared to her last year’s Sibert winner. In BARBIE, you hardly hear her as author until well into the text, and she lightly layers her opinions between those of others until she’s laid a strong foundation for offering a judgment. This title was published by a different company, and I’m assuming Stone worked with a different editor. The difference is remarkable. The product still brilliant.
Marc Aronson worked with Stone in an editorial role on ALMOST ASTRONAUTS. He was also the first author to win the Sibert Medal in 2001 with his SIR WALTER RALEGH. This year, he and his wife Marina Budhos tell us how SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD. Taking their personal family histories as a jumping off point to go global, they tie in agricultural, political, technological and social histories in a gripping narrative and fabulous-looking package (fabulous-looking even in ARC form). As in RALEGH, the end notes are almost the best part.
Those endnotes in RALEGH, a distinguished element noted in the award announcement, set a standard that has been emulated and built on in the decade since by many authors and publishers. Sid Fleischman provides a subtle Chaplinesque nose-thumbing at the same time that he steps up and performs admirably in the endnotes to his SIR CHARLIE: “Here is the evidence for all quotes. In addition, to avoid interrupting the flow of the narrative while identifying secondary celebrities, I am making fuller introductions here. It’s here, too, that I have exiled casual comments, some of them diverting.” His text is elegantly hilarious in every regard, and my ARC is so marked with clever turns of phrase as to render my marks useless. His subject doesn’t lack for an entertaining story, but Fleischman’s own voice and skill in presentation is so evident as to make this stand above. I have such a high first impression of this book that I’m eager, actually, to find someone who knows a little more about the subject and solicit their opinion of Fleischman’s interpretation. It sounds like there may be no “authoritative” version, but I’d like to know that Fleischman’s content is as solid as his delivery. The parallels between his own exit and the way he present’s Chaplin’s exit from the world’s stage (“Exit, smiling, Sir Charlie”) are so poignant that I can’t quite trust my own judgment…imagining the potential of a posthumous medal.