Forrest Wickman of Slate reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Two new books take readers into the nuts and bolts of the artistic process.
"Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession," by Joe Mansfield and out from publisher Get On Down, is a journey through the history of one of hip-hop and electronic music's most important instruments. After an intro from Dave Tompkins, the author of a similarly minded history of the vocoder, the book starts at the beginning, with the charmingly elementary machines once used to accompany organists playing foxtrots. From there, it goes beat by beat through the evolution of the instrument, pausing just a bit to linger on key machines like the 808 and the Linn LM-1.
If those names aren't as familiar as, say, the Fender Stratocaster, that explains the importance of the book. Drum machines have been instrumental for everyone from Prince to R.E.M., but they remain alien to many fans. "Beat Box" does the trick of demystifying the machines with interviews, photographs and quaint old advertisements. It takes you inside the machines and explains why their unique sounds still inspire innovators like Kanye West.
There are some mysteries that may never be solved. "The Disaster Artist," out now from Simon & Schuster, plumbs the depths of one such mystery: How could one movie be so bad? That movie is "The Room," widely considered "the 'Citizen Kane' of bad movies." For those who haven't yet had the honor of seeing it, "The Room" is the brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, an Ed Wood-like figure whose bizarrely inept cinematic and sartorial decisions, like always wearing two belts, this book can only begin to illuminate.
If anyone could explain Wiseau, who comes across as one of the great characters in literature, it would be Greg Sestero, one of the stars of "The Room" and a close friend of Tommy's. Sestero co-authored the book with experienced journalist Tom Bissell, who can presumably be credited with the fine quality of the writing.
"The Disaster Artist" is a better book than it has any right to be, managing at once to induce giggle fits and to find echoes of the American Dream.
Both books will help you better understand the gearwork behind popular culture, but only "The Disaster Artist" outmasters the artistry of its subject.
Read a full review of "Beat Box" and many other great new books on the Slate Book Review at slate.com/books.