Linda Gordon has written a wonderful biography of Dorothea Lange (W.W. Norton, $35), who transformed herself from a privileged socialite into the famous Depression-era photographer. Lange began her career as a society photographer in San Francisco, but the election of Franklin Roosevelt as president stimulated in her a passion for grassroots activism and a desire to integrate her work as an artist with her political convictions. Portraiture gave way to documentary photography; Lange started with Mexican farm workers and soon was making pictures of the impoverished refugees who arrived daily in California from the Oklahoma dust bowl. In doing so, she quarreled with Ansel Adams, who believed that a photographer’s emotions should not influence the photography. Over 100 of Lange’s photos accompany this absorbing chronicle of a well-developed life.
Christopher Buckley, the only child of William F. and Patricia T. Buckley, recalls the lives of these larger-than-life parents in Losing Mum And Pup (Twelve, $24.99), a memoir that shimmers with affection and humor. Of his conservative Catholic father he writes, “Pup had the most delicious, reliable, wicked vibrant sense of humor of anyone I knew,” a trait Chris Buckley liberally sprinkles throughout his celebration of his parents’ lives.
In Cheerful Money (Little, Brown, $24.99), his sweet, loving, but sad memoir of his Wasp family, Tad Friend, a New Yorker staff writer, confides that Wasp parents treat the essence of Waspishness as they do sex, never revealing its secrets to their offspring. As a result, Friend has spent a lifetime learning from others what it means to be a White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant. “Wasps name their dogs after liquor, their cars after dogs, and their children after their ancestors,” Friend discovers. Wasps wear Shetland sweaters and Docksiders; Preppies are often confused with Wasps, but “Preppies are infantile, stuck at age 17, while Wasps emerge from the womb wrinkly and cautious, already vice presidents, already fifty-two.” Friend’s father, a Swarthmore College president, like all good Wasps, was bound by duty, a chronic disposition learned in childhood from “cheerful money, coins deposited in a kitchen jar as a reward for smiling through grim occasions.” By the end of this affectionate family history, the reader will well understand why Wasps are a dying breed.