American Spirit: Visions of a New Corporate Culture, Lawrence M. Miller (Warner). Acutely conscious of flagging U.S. productivity even in this age of Iacocca, Miller argues that we haven't met the "new challenge" of tapping mind--"We are a nation of sloppy thinkers (making) decisions based on gut reactions that are often easily manipulated"--and soul--"Marxism has succeeded in capturing the imagination and dedication of masses of people . . . because (unlike capitalism) it is uninhibited in its expression of lofty ideals and principles." Miller's solutions, unfortunately, aren't as sharp as his diagnosis. He uses the word "new" as wantonly as Procter & Gamble, heralding, for example, "a new age when distinctions that disunite and limit people are counterproductive." The book, meanwhile, perpetuates some of its own distinctions: Miller uses only the masculine pronoun, for instance, and fails to offer any stories about women executives. Still, his optimism is genuinely American, powerful enough to help turn such questionable assertions as the following into self-fulfilling prophecies: "At the foundation of how we organize and manage our corporations . . . is a willingness to sacrifice personal well-being for a higher purpose, a vision of the future."
The Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa, Martin Page (Pantheon). "It is a privilege given to few men--that is, those whose bodies and souls are still united--to attend their own funerals." Page's elegant and adventurous suspense story begins on this note, as master thief Adam Worth rents a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to watch his own burial.
The Keepers of the House, Shirley Ann Grau, The Dollmaker, Harriette Arnow, The Blood of Paradise, Stephen Goodwin, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy, Pariah and Other Stories, Joan Williams, Some Sweet Day, Bryan Woolley (Avon). This series of writings from the 1950s to '80s illustrates why the South is a dominant voice in American literature. In the Pulitzer-Prize-winning "The Keepers of the House," Abigail takes revenge on a small-minded Southern town, while in "The Dollmaker," Gertie Nevels fights to hold on to her family and heritage after being uprooted from her backwoods home and thrust into wartime Detroit ("A body's got to have something all their own," writes Arnow). "Some Sweet Day" looks at childhood dreams and disappointments, while "The Blood of Paradise" follows a family as they attempt to save their marriage by leaving the city for a backwoods town. "Pariah and Other Stories" offers vignettes of the Deep South, while "The Moviegoer," the story of a New Orleans man who lives for a few bright moments of celluloid fantasy, opens with Kierkegaard's warning that despair "is unaware of being despair."
The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958, John Litweiler (Quill). Growing out of 1940s and '50s "bop" music, "free" or "avant-garde" jazz, writes Litweiler, "turned blues into a wicked witch that menaced structures of old-world gingerbread." Litweiler's story of the revolution, praised by many jazz critics for being "refreshingly free of cant or bias," looks at lesser-known movers-and-shakers as well as greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. "I realized that if I changed the harmonic or tempo structure while someone else is doing something," said Coleman, "they couldn't stay there, they'd have to change with me."
Horseman, Pass By, Larry McMurtry (Texas A&M). This first novel, published in 1961 by the author of "Terms of Endearment," was translated into the film "Hud." McMurtry conveys a starkly realistic picture of today's Southwest, a region where frontier honesty is fading in the face of impersonal modern consumerism. This is the story of the Bannon family and their Texas ranch: old-fashioned cattleman Homer pitted against his stepson, the unscrupulous, world-wise Hud, and the witness to it all, Lonnie, just coming of age.