Levitin explores masculinity, Hooper embellishes Dorothea Lange, and Forti debuts her first album.
Disposable Man by Michael Levitin (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019, 181 pp., $16)
One wouldn’t expect a manly book ostensibly about cuckholds, balls, and ejaculations to go over well in today’s (finally) feminist-forward world, but Berkeley journalist and activist Michael Levitin carries it off. In his debut novel, the co-founder of Occupied Wall Street Journal cheekily explores masculinity and the idea of men as a disposable commodity. His structure moves between past and present in alternating chapters and follows protagonist Max Krumm, an American expatriate, flailing journalist, and cuckold living in Berlin — where the author also once lived. Krumm’s marital breakup sends him into a medical tailspin, and the suffering Krumm experiences a need to re-examine his Jewish past and embarks on a history-heavy trip through Poland and Lithuania. —Judith M. Gallman
Learning to See: A Novel of Dorothea Lange, the Woman Who Revealed the Real America by Elise Hooper (William Morrow, 2019, 384 pp., $15.99)
Everyone knows Dorothea Lange from her iconic striking Depression-era photographs of the downtrodden and the poor, but what was she, born Dorothea Nutzhorn, like before and after becoming Dorothea Lange? Elise Hooper makes up a fictional account of Lange using facts and her imagination to conjure a relatable story of Lange as struggling single mother, wife, lover, and photographer whose work and life combined advocacy and art. This historical fictional novel should provide fun fodder for fans of the woman behind the lens who arrived in San Francisco in 1918 at 22 with an independent streak that fueled her ascendancy to chronicler of gross injustices. Hooper follows Lange from camera shop assistant to photographer and beyond. —JMG
Travelin’ On by Maggie Forti. Music River Productions. MaggieForti.com
On the long road to this first album, East Bay singer-songwriter Maggie Forti made countless friends in the music community. Many of them appear on Travelin’ On, blending folk-rock, Celtic, soul, and New Grass idioms to buoy Forti’s soaring, sometimes gospel-tinged voice (which hints of Maria Muldaur and Rickie Lee Jones). Nat Keefe (Hot Buttered Rum) and James Nash (the Waybacks) play acoustic and electric guitars; bassist Steve Adams (ALO), drummer Rob Hooper, and pianist/organist Jeff Coleman (Poor Man’s Whiskey) provide a Muscle Shoals–worthy rhythm section; Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (ALO) sears pedal steel into three tracks; Phil Brezina (The Brothers Comatose) adds violin to three others; and Vicki Randle gloriously supplements Forti’s lead vocals on five songs, including the perfect storms of “Rise Above” and “Aimless Love.” —Derk Richardson