Home » Debuts » Nonfiction Naked with guest Rob Kirkpatrick.

Nonfiction Naked with guest Rob Kirkpatrick.

Hi there.  I’m Rob Kirkpatrick, Senior Editor with the Thomas Dunne Books imprint at St. Martin’s Press.  I came to the Macmillan family with a wide variety of publishing experience, including four years at Greenwood Publishing, when I had the chance to meet a number of public and academic librarians and talk with them about the needs and interests of their patrons. 

One of the nice things about my job here at Macmillan has been getting to know Talia Sherer, our distinguished Director of Library Marketing.  At one of our lunches, Talia was quizzing me (it was open book) about our Nonfiction program. What did I have coming down the road?  If I had the chance to speak directly to acquisition librarians, what titles would I like to tell them about?  After talking some more, Talia offered me the chance to speak directly to librarians, in the form of this blog. For my initial installment, I’d like to tell you about two of my favorite Spring titles.  I’m sure both will be well circulated among your patrons—and not just because they have eye-catching covers that will make for ideal centerpieces for floor displays.

Full disclosure: I’m a pop culture specialist.  I like books that take us on trips through moments in time and provide us new ways of understanding the shared American experience.  Few things are as American as baseball, and as you plan your displays for the 2010 baseball season, you don’t want to miss Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s by pop-culture historian Dan Epstein.

As Epstein shows us, the ‘70s might have been the most thrilling—and perhaps most turbulent—decade in baseball history.  Who can forget when Carlton Fisk waved it fair in Game 6, when Reggie went deep on three consecutive swings, or when Hank Aaron became home run king?  (Each without steroids!)  Mark “The Bird” Fidrych or Bill “Spaceman” Lee?  Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s, George Steinbrenner’s Bronx Zoo, or the Big Red Machine?  When the Mets taught us “Ya Gotta Believe” and the Pirates rallied around “We Are Family”?  How about Bill Veeck’s infamous Disco Demolition Night?  

Epstein’s Technicolor trip through memory lane relives this decade in a voice that’s so entertaining, I found myself re-reading the manuscript for pleasure one weekend after I had already edited and transmitted it to production—that’s how fun it is.  In the sometimes stat-heavy world of baseball fandom, the author mines his encyclopedic knowledge to serve up this delicious helping of American pastime pie—the perfect book for fans who care just as much about Oscar Gamble’s afro as about his OPS.  (That’s Oscar on the cover, with the aforementioned afro that also was featured famously on his 1976 Topps Traded card.)  Big Hair and Plastic Grass is an irreverent yet authoritative look at the baseball’s most overlooked and misunderstood decade.  As ESPN’s Rob Neyer raves, “What the 1960s were to America, the 1970s were to baseball, and Dan Epstein has finally given us the swinging book the '70s deserve.”

To let you in on a little secret: Big Hair is the book so nice that I bought it twice—literally.  I originally signed Dan Epstein to write this book while I was working for another publisher, and when that house reconsidered its nonfiction program, I jumped at the chance to acquire it for Thomas Dunne, where I’m pleased to say it’s found the right home. People throughout the building are talking about this great title, and I’m proud to say that many of my co-workers have joined the more than 1,200 fans of the Big Hair Facebook page to date.  Do yourself a favor and check out his page, which includes great images and videos from the ‘70s, along with photos and memories shared by fans themselves.

***

I’m not just a pop culture enthusiast but a counterculture enthusiast, as well.  In my “free time,” I wrote a book on the late-sixties counterculture, which I bring up here because journalist Nicholas Schou has unearthed a story that I had missed in my research—and I don’t want you to miss it, too. Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World is an example of historical research at it best, and as the Los Angeles Times just proclaimed, Schou has written the “definitive history of the dark side of the 1960s.”

The Brotherhood of Eternal Love—dubbed the “Hippie Mafia” by Rolling Stone at the time—began as a small band of peace-loving SoCal surfers during the mid-1960s.  The group’s story is a fascinating microcosm of what happened to the rest of the nation as America progressed from the days of the “Summer of Love” to the more sobering years of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  After the Brotherhood discovered LSD, they resolved to make Timothy Leary’s mantra of “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” a reality by dealing acid and harder drugs throughout the nation and the world, hoping to fuel a psychedelic revolution. They even enlisted Leary himself in their goal of buying a tropical island, where they could install the former Harvard philosophy professor as the high priest of an experimental utopia. But as the group expanded it reach across the globe and delved into harder drugs, its dark dream came crashing down. The Brotherhood eventually fell apart as its founding members were busted, died, or just grew disillusioned left the scene. Just this past year, Brenice Lee Smith was taken into custody on a 40-year old warrant stemming from his involvement in the Hippie Mafia.

Schou has performed a great piece of investigative and historical journalism in gaining access to both former members of the Brotherhood who’d never granted interviews before, along with some of the law enforcement members who pursued them at the time.  Schou neither glorifies nor vilifies his subjects; he merely tells a story, and he tells it well.  Author Mike Davis even compares this narrative to “classic Tom Pynchon”—except this is true!  

Check out the book’s Facebook page!

…or go here to learn about the movie on the Brotherhood currently in development!

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