Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend
By Michael Munn (Skyhorses Publishing, 317 pages, $24.95)
Throughout more than 70 films, the late Jimmy Stewart played everything from a slimy, shyster killer to a hard-bitten detective suffering from dizziness. But he was best known for playing upstanding, solid everymen like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life." He was so good at it that many people believed that was the true Jimmy Stewart. But was it? According to Michael Munn's uneven tome the answer is, well, sort of. Stewart was born in a small town (Indiana, Pa.) and reflected the values of hard work and devotion to family. He was viewed as a good, dependable — though sometimes aloof — friend.
However, he was a big womanizer, worked as an informant for the FBI and may have had issues with African-Americans. All of this is told in an erratic-at-best narrative in which Munn himself too often becomes part of the story.
The best parts of the book are the anecdotes from Stewart's many films. For example, the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" was initially considered a flop when first released and Stewart blamed it on what he said was the lack of chemistry between him and co-star Donna Reed. Stewart led a very interesting life and was very influential on Hollywood. Hopefully, a more thorough writer will take a shot at telling Stewart's fascinating story in the future.
Milford Reid, Multiplatform editor
THE DOGS AND I: TRUE TAILS FROM THE MISSISSIPPI
By Kenny Salwey (Fulcrum Publishing, $15, 179 pages)
Kenny Salwey has variously described himself as a modern-day hermit, a river rat and the last of a breed of weathered woodsmen living off the land. In this collection of stories about his most memorable canine companions, he delivers tales of wonder and acceptance while giving readers a passing look at the Upper Mississippi River in rural Wisconsin.
His writing voice is soaked in hillbilly vernacular and a folksiness that sometimes feels forced. But throughout this compact book, Salwey connects through his portrayal of the gifts and peculiarities of colorfully named dogs — Spider, Misty, Spook. These clearly are working dogs — they tussle with 'coons, fetch pheasants and trap the squirrels that Salwey skins and eats. One dog, Joey, has the astonishing ability to catch rainbow trout.
The stories, while uneven, are gentle and engaging, and the accompanying photos make this a fitting, if quirky, gift for those whose lives have been enriched by the noble dog.
JACKIE CROSBY, Health care reporter