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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Michael Henningsen, Jeffrey Lee, Jessica English and Aaron Emmel

AUGUST 31, 1998: 

Texas Music
by Rick Koster (St. Martin's Press, cloth, $29.95)

Everything in Texas is big; therefore, most things about the Lone Star State are big as well. So it is with Rick Koster's well-researched, entertaining and thoughtful historical account of Texas music. From Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, George Jones, Roky Erickson and Kinky Friedman to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Junior Brown, Robert Earl Keen and the Butthole Surfers, music has long been one of Texas' greatest exports. It sure as hell ain't the skiers.

Koster has met the daunting task of compiling huge amounts of information taken from interviews and pure research and casting it with some form of chronology and meaning with formidable skill. The result is a hefty book broken into eight chapters, one for each genre and like subsets.

Texas Music is a triumph in many regards, but the best, most readable element is not in the words themselves but in the spirit with which they were written: Koster obviously loves Texas music as much as any of the artists he's included. Regarding the state as perhaps the most culturally diverse and colorful breeding grounds in the country, Koster has set about to do justice to perhaps the only thing from Texas that doesn't annoy residents of other states. And he succeeds masterfully--y'all. (MH)

Tongue First: Adventures in Physical Culture
by Emily Jenkins (Owl, paper, $14.95)

Tongue First fits snugly into the post-feminist, rude-girl genre of academic cultural analysis. What makes it a far better read than the usual thesis-in-disguise is that Jenkins (a) writes good American prose and (b) has no particular ax to grind. She just writes, with refreshing intelligence and humor, about what interests her: the body, how we define it and it us. Her pursuit of the body's assorted pleasures, wholesome and dubious, brings her to a sensory deprivation tank, a subterranean New Age spa, a Chippendales strip show, a piercing and tattoo parlor, and--to me, even more exotic--a department store cosmetics counter. And to bed. Jenkins is at her best when she writes about how changes of costume or physical context can transform identity--even a change of shoes. Afterall, she asserts, a man donning a pinstripe suit for the office is as much "in drag" as RuPaul. While both smart and unpretentious about such generalities, Jenkins mainly limits her observations to the specific--her own body and its "adventures"--and this approach gives her incidental theorizing an honest, down-to-earth feel. Best of all, her unapologetic comments about good sex and pleasurable drug use are among the sanest I have read. And her author photo, in which she wears a tattoo and a towel, is certainly fetching. (JL)

Why Can't I Get What I Want?
by Charles H. Elliott and Maureen Kirby Lassen (Davies-Black Publishing, cloth, $22.95)

It's difficult to respect the self-help genre. Every Ph.D., social worker, mystic healer and Tom, Dick and Harry is cashing in on the mindless "getting in-touch-with" fluff. That's why Why Can't I Get What I Want? is a welcome relief, although that's hidden behind a clever title that even Oprah could endorse for cheesy book of the month. But that's where the intellectual forfeit so often required with self-help stops. Psychologists Charles H. Elliott (of Albuquerque) and Maureen Kirby Lassen guide readers to understand behavioral patterns with the latest in psychological research involving "schemas," mental filters through which each person interprets situations, relationships and themselves. Refreshingly, Why Can't I forgoes all the sugary cooing of many other self-help rags; the language is straightforward, and the concepts are upheld by elementary physics. As you read through the book, you're given the opportunity to do exercises that help you understand your dominant "schemas," along with an analysis of how each affects your thinking patterns. Like any other complicated machine, when you've gotta tighten a few bolts in your brain, you better consult the official owner's manual; Why Can't I is it. (JE)

Globalization and its Discontents
by Saskia Sassen (The New Press, cloth, $25)

Academics have a way of making their topics sound important by making them very boring. I've tried to isolate how exactly that is done in this book, and the answer seems to be a whole lot of unnecessary words. The density of the prose is unfortunate, because the ideas in Globalization are as interesting as the book itself isn't. Sassen does a good job of demonstrating that the primary actors of international relations are no longer nation-states. Individual cities are now the nodes of international commerce: centers of finance, industry and technology that are essential for a global economy. Transnational corporations require new legal codes and regulation by international agencies. And immigrants have become integral parts of the global work force. State sovereignty, in other words, becomes decreasingly important, at the same time that the importance of traditionally ignored players rises. Not surprisingly, Sassen devotes a fair amount of space to the impact of the Internet. She also makes a good case for the growing viability of feminism, as the "unbundling" of state sovereignty opens the way for female and minority participation. This book--rather, the thesis of this book--will fascinate many students of the global economy, and although it isn't something that the average reader will find of pressing excitement, its ideas are strong enough to demand attention. Hopefully, the writers who translate academic verbosity into popular essays will give this book a good read. (AE)

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