Bookworm: The King and his court; upwardly mobile

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Elvis in Vegas”

  • By Richard Zoglin
  • c. 2019, Simon & Schuster 
  • $28, $37 Canada; 297 pages

Cherry, cherry, cherry. That’s what you want to see, as you reach for the lever and take another spin. Or is it a little ball in a slot you’d like better, or the right number from a deck of cards? When you’re in Vegas, baby, anything can happen – even, as in the new book “Elvis in Vegas” by Richard Zoglin, breathing life in what seemed nearly dead.

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His first time in Las Vegas was not his idea. And it wasn’t a good idea, either. It was the spring of 1956 and Elvis Presley’s star was rising. Teenage girls screamed for him onstage and he’d already been a “regional phenomenon” when he recorded his first mainstream single, “Heartbreak Hotel.” That record was at the top of the charts when his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, booked Elvis at the New Frontier hotel but there was one problem: Vegas show-goers in 1956 were more middle-of-the-road and middle-aged. To them, rock and roll was just a fad.

“Elvis in Vegas” by Richard Zoglin.

That was Elvis’ first show on a Las Vegas stage, and it would be his last for more than 13 years. 

In the meantime, the city grew up and out.

During the 1950s, says Zoglin, every major (and many minor) stars from Hollywood, Broadway, and the sporting world performed in Las Vegas, onstage or in lounges, or they came just to hang out. Singers honed their crafts and made their marks, actors offered unremarkable stage shows that were nevertheless sold out, and “Rat Pack” practically became a household term, while rock & roll bands came but didn’t stick around. The city’s population swelled to fifty-nine thousand citizens by 1960 and some twenty-thousand tourists visited each day, while Elvis Presley made movies that, at the end, were box-office busts.

“Elvis in Vegas” author Richard Zoglin.

He’d always loved Las Vegas for its glamour and fun. He’d been there many times, had even gotten married there, and it was the perfect place for him to perform, which was something he loved best. He signed a contract, put together a band, chose two back-up groups, and practiced. And on July 31, 1969, he stepped onstage …

Elvis fans unite! Read this book but be sure to share. “Elvis in Vegas” has something for almost everyone inside.

Author Richard Zoglin does, indeed, write about Presley in his early career, but he does it with a difference: while there’s a strong but thin thread that ties the first pages to the last half of this book, the middle half offers a lively, nostalgic, cowtown-rags to high-roller-riches tale of not just a city, but of entertainment itself.  The ascent and descent of many careers are wrapped up in Las Vegas history, and Zoglin tells the stories with an insider’s feel and a sense that what happened fifty or sixty years ago is still great gossip.

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Fans will hunka-hunka burnin’-love this book, while readers who are too young to recall Elvis’ comeback but old enough to appreciate Sin City will enjoy it, too.  “Elvis in Vegas” is a great summertime read. You can bet on that.

“A Walking Life”

  • By Antonia Malchik
  • c. 2019, DaCapo LongLife
  • $28, $36 Canada; 261 pages

The device on your wrist is very insistent. It often seems like it’s prodding you to move, get out of your chair, get up and go. One thousand steps, four thousand steps, and the device wants more. It’s for your health, you know, but in the new book “A Walking Life” by Antonia Malchik, you’ll see that fitness is only the first step.

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Millions of years ago, one of our ancestors did something remarkable: he stood upright and walked.

“A Walking Life” by Antonia Malchik.

He might not have gone far and he may not’ve done it twice but that single action was as physically miraculous then as it is now, and monumental because it was something that Malchik argues makes us truly, fundamentally human. We’ve been a “wide-roaming … species” ever since.

Most of us took our first trip when we were small, but it wasn’t easy: Malchik says that when the average toddler is just starting to walk, she takes more than 2,000 shaky steps and falls about 17 times an hour. Eventually, though, most of us get the hang of walking and we want to – need to – do it: studies show that walking is essential for our physical development and it’s important for both mind and body. Total cessation, in fact, “affects us in ways that aren’t always immediately obvious.”

And yet, modernity makes it difficult to take those needed steps. There are things today that stand in the way of walking.

A hundred years ago, most people walked to get where they needed to go but then the automobile came around, paved roads were built, pedestrians met prohibitions, and walkable neighborhoods were destroyed. What we need to do is to figure out how to take our walking paths back or find new ones.

In the meantime, use your footsteps because walking isn’t just walking. It’s a means of protest and of support, relaxation, religion, tool, and meditation. We walk to remember, and to sort our minds. We need to walk because “the consequences of severing the earth from our feet are devastating.”

For sure, “A Walking Life” makes some excellent arguments. Author Antonia Malchik offers a lot of valid points and intriguing facts that should get readers going. The problem is that this book is a fine example of preaching to the choir.

Indeed, anyone who’s interested in the art and benefits of walking is likely already in a hundred-percent agreement with nearly everything here. If you walk for your health, mental or physical, you’ve already thought of most of this. If you walk for the benefit of the earth, it’s familiar stuff. Yes, this book offers a lovely bit of story with a quietly meditative tone and softly urgent thoughts but it’s not going to change any minds because the minds are likely already there.

That doesn’t make this a bad book but its audience may be narrow. If you’re an active walker or hiker, “A Walking Life” will underscore what you believe. If you’ve no interest and you love your car more, then just step away …

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.