From Publishers Weekly
What is hip? Leland has researched contemporary answers to that question for Spin
and the New York Times
, and now probes deeper for a rigorous historical analysis that goes beyond the usual hot spots of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance, encompassing colonial plantations, animation studios, pulp magazine racks and the latest hipster hangouts. The story of hip is largely the story of American race relations, and Leland addresses the ways whites and blacks have interpreted and imitated one another from many angles, as assuredly perceptive when he analyzes Al Jolson's blackface persona as he is exploring the dynamic between bop jazz and Beat Generation writers. Refusing to either champion or condemn "the white boy who stole the blues," Leland presents readers with an accessible model of complex social forces. The breadth and sophistication of his argument is admirable, but it wouldn't be as convincing without his engaging tone, which shuns condescension to invite readers into a genial conversation—Leland even jokes about how the nature of hipness might date his book. Leland needn't worry: though hip will always be a matter of perception, few will be able to read this eclectic history without agreeing it's on to something. 49 b&w photos.
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Forget diversity training and sociology lectures: here's a surefire way to excite teens about the forces at work in American history. Industrialization, Prohibition, immigration, civil rights, and class consciousness come alive when viewed through hip's lens, making it seem like one long, wild story whose new chapters build, riff, and expand on the old. This fast-paced volume is also a jumping-off point: whether explaining that "hip" comes from the Wolof word "hipi" ("to open one's eyes"), brought to America by West African slaves, or pointing out the resemblance between Bugs Bunny and the hard-boiled detectives of pulp fiction, Leland will lead YAs beyond Kerouac to "Original Gangstas" Thoreau and Whitman, the "thug vitality" of the 19th-century Bowery boys, and the over-the-top "bling" worn by Ma Rainey half a century before Lil' Kim showed up. Running throughout is a solid awareness that "hip" involves cultures borrowing, and often stealing, from one another. Unlike other observers of this phenomenon, however, Leland sees this less as a form of oppression and more as a form of play. While not always convincing, the argument is appealing, full of good will and good sense. Both a practical and a fun purchase, Hip
may quickly become the most well-read book in your nonfiction collection.–Emily Lloyd, formerly at Rehoboth Beach Public Library, DE