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Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News”

Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News

Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers―from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. TrumpBunktraces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.

Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.

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“A wild, incisive, exhilarating tour through Western culture’s sideshows and dark corners. Like a sideshow barker, Young writes with unbridled enthusiasm, a showman’s conviction, and a carny’s canny, telling a story that at times defies belief. And every word of it is true.” ― Los Angeles Times

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“Kevin Young . . . reflects on hoaxers and events as diverse as P.T. Barnum, Rachel Dolezal, the forged Hitler Diaries, Binjamin Wilkomirski’s fabricated Holocaust memoir, James Frey, Stephen Glass and Lance Armstrong. What could be timelier in the age of post-truth politics, science denial, and fake news?” ― Newsweek

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“[Young’s] scrupulous feel for archival traces ― for the urgent materiality of memory ― is one of the superpowers he brings to both his poems and nonfiction. The newest example is Bunk, Young’s enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine. . . . Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective. . . . Bunk, a panorama, a rumination, and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return. . . . Bunk is a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony.” ― Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review

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The Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Nightmare Alley” by William Lindsay Gresham

Nightmare Alley

NIGHTMARE ALLEY

Nightmare Alley begins with an extraordinary description of a freak-show geek—alcoholic and abject and the object of the voyeuristic crowd’s gleeful disgust and derision—going about his work at a county fair. Young Stan Carlisle is working as a carny, and he wonders how a man could fall so low. There’s no way in hell, he vows, that anything like that will ever happen to him.

And since Stan is clever and ambitious and not without a useful streak of ruthlessness, soon enough he’s going places. Onstage he plays the mentalist with a cute bimbo (before long his harried wife), then he graduates to full-blown spiritualist, catering to the needs of the rich and gullible in their well-upholstered homes. It looks like the world is Stan’s for the taking. At least for now.

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Mr. Gresham yanked the reviewer into the midst of his macabre and compelling novel, and kept him a breathless captive until the tour was over. It’s a truly rewarding whirl through his nightmare alley, adding up to Grade—A guignol with a touch of black magic about it. If you enjoy hundred—proof evil—and a cogent analysis of same with your nightcap—then, in the words of the Ten-in-One barker, hurry, hurry, hurry!
James MacBride, The New York Times

Gresham…wrote with vivid punch and a close understanding of the carnival world.
— Los Angeles Times

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