In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Northampton, Mass., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.
Daniel de Visé ’89, King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King, the First Guitar Hero (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2021)
In what is the first comprehensive biography of the legendary blues musician B.B. King, Daniel de Visé takes readers on a fascinating journey through the life of King and the aspects of American culture that grounded his career and launched him into stardom. De Visé pulls off an impressive feat in which his Pulitzer Prize–winning journalism skills shine through. He describes specific scenes with meticulous detail and authority, in large part due to the numerous interviews he conducted with people who were—in all shapes and forms—part of King’s life at various points. De Visé traces King’s roots in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era, revealing how the trauma of his childhood contributed to his doggedness in his career, and follows him through the rest of his life.
Along with relaying the facts and nuances of King’s life, de Visé goes back in time, outlining the lives of King’s ancestors and giving a holistic picture of the world into which King was born. The result is a biography that has a deep interest in familial ties, the history of music as it relates to the African-American experience, and the implications of King’s life for the future of music. As all good biographies must do, de Visé’s book fundamentally brings King back to life, animating him in our collective memory.
Daniel de Visé is a writer and journalist. He has worked at several notable publications, including The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. In addition to King of the Blues, he is the author of I Forgot to Remember, Andy & Don, and The Comeback. He lives in Maryland.
Caitlin Petre ’06, All the News That’s Fit to Click: How Metrics Are Transforming the Work of Journalists (Princeton University Press, 2021)
In our age of technology—in which our main news sources have become digital in a matter of years—we’ve all been victims of clickbait. Clicking on an interesting-looking headline only to find out that the article doesn’t deliver on its headline’s promise is a universal experience for Internet users. And for journalists, the struggle is often even more difficult—how to create promising headlines that will generate web traffic and grab readers’ attention, while still producing quality content? In her new book, Caitlin Petre explores how the shift to the digital world has had profound implications for the world of journalism, and how having concrete data surrounding views, clicks, likes, comments, and shares has been both enlightening and dangerous for the people who work in the industry.
Petre raises countless questions—what does it mean if journalists are intensely focused on their metrics? Does it improve their work? Weaken it? What does digital journalism mean for readership?—and answers them with grace, nuance, and a whole lot of research and case studies. If you’re interested in journalism, or even just someone who reads articles online, you’ll find Petre’s analysis revealing and pertinent to your everyday life.
Caitlin Petre is assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. She lives in New York City.
Geoff Rips ’72, Personal Geography (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2022)
Venture into the pages of Geoff Rips’s latest novel Personal Geography and prepare to be sucked into the thrilling and complex world of New York private investigator Giacomo Berg and missing-persons expert Bonita “B.C.” Boyd. The two investigators are on a quest to find an old friend of theirs, Peter Proust, who is trying to escape from the world (or imagine a new type of world for himself). Berg and Boyd’s search leads them to Texas, where Proust was last spotted, and beyond, where they encounter bizarre and surprising new characters, locales, and landscapes. Rips, who lives in Texas, demonstrates his interest in and knowledge of the state through his vivid descriptions and colorful portrayal of the geographical and cultural location. The story is an exciting and fast read, and Rips does an excellent job of maintaining the action while still allowing moments to slow down, give background information, and deeply develop his characters’ emotional lives.
Geoff Rips is a writer and a former editor of The Texas Observer. He is the author of two novels, Personal Geography and The Truth; one book of poetry, The Calculus of Falling Bodies; and one book of nonfiction, Unamerican Activities: The Campaign Against the Underground Press. He lives in Austin, Texas.