The Deal: A meticulous chronicling of the blossoming of N.C. native Eunice Waymon into the creature known as Nina Simone.
The Good: Although written in an easygoing style, Cohodas' narrative is not a flattering portrait of the ultimate diva but an honest one, as hard on Simone as she was on her audiences. The book revisits her famous outbursts, including the time she lectured the notoriously rowdy audience at NYC's Apollo Theater when she thought someone giggled during her spoken intro to a song. The author's intensive research with those who were at Simone's side at various stages in her career gives the reader a firsthand look backstage and offstage. It's a disturbing narrative at times, especially in the latter stages of her career. When her schizophrenia raged unchecked and her anger got the best of her, Simone nearly went to prison in France for shooting a neighbor's teenage boy in the leg with buckshot because she thought he was making fun of her. But Simone's talent overshadows the madness, her magnificent voice carving out a place for her as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all times.
The Bad: It's odd that author Cohodas doesn't volunteer any firsthand takes on what Simone sounded like. Her voice was so distinctive and her phrasing and delivery so powerful that few artists in any genre have equaled it.
The Verdict: Have your Simone collection handy so you can punctuate the manuscript with your own impressions. If it's your first time with the diva, put the book down and go out and get some Simone in your ears so her story won't be so hard on the eyes.