OUR SPOONS CAME FROM WOOLWORTHS
By Barbara Comyns. (New York Review Books, 196 pages, $14.95.)
Originally published in 1950, “Our Spoons Came From Woolworths” is the story of the marriage of two young artists in postwar London. They are talented, naive and very, very poor.
The narrator, Sophia, hopes that “if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard, they most likely wouldn’t come.”
But come they do, and along with them come hard times: deep poverty and near-starvation.
It is Sophia’s voice that makes this book work so well — measured and calm, self-deprecating, baffled yet optimistic, slowly maturing as the novel goes on.
RESPECT: THE LIFE OF ARETHA FRANKLIN
By David Ritz. (Back Bay Books, 482 pages, $23.99.)
If you like your music stars complicated and contradictory, you will praise the Aretha Franklin who emerges in “Respect.”
In David Ritz’s unauthorized biography, newly issued in paperback, the Queen of Soul is a moody genius with a heaven-sent musical gift, strange and brilliant, hot and cold, passive and bossy, industrious and unreliable, imperious and insecure, a national celebrity with plenty of secret pain.
After ghostwriting Franklin’s autobiography, Ritz felt that book was an idealized version of her life.
Years later, he set out to write his version, and he had candid cooperation from scores of sources close to Aretha, but not from the Queen herself.
“Respect” is a bumpy and delicious ride. Franklin and her three siblings grew up in church, their father a nationally renowned Detroit preacher.
She had two children before her 15th birthday, dropped out of high school and hit the touring gospel circuit while still just a girl. Just 18 when she signed with Columbia records, she hit the big time in the late 1960s with a string of enduring smash hit records for the Atlantic label under producer Jerry Wexler.
On her way to 18 Grammys and more than 75 million records sold, Franklin tested out musical genres (R&B, soul, disco, gospel, jazz, Broadway, pure pop, even opera), fashions, producers, labels, politics, husbands, boyfriends.
She fell in and out of depression, gained and lost weight and sang for presidents and fans around the world. Read “Respect” with a YouTube-playing device near at hand to experience Aretha in a hundred shades of glorious.