Gill is that rare critic who actually has something relevant and profound to say about every place he visits. Highly...

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ASSIGNMENTS FROM HERE AND THERE

Vanity Fair contributing editor Gill (The Angry Island: Hunting the English, 2007, etc.) returns with another stellar collection of dispatches from across the globe.

As he noted in A.A. Gill is Away (2005), when on assignment the author follows a few hard and fast rules: Don’t conduct research before traveling; don’t stay too long; don’t take notes. Fortunately for readers, Gill is blessed with a remarkable memory and a consistently engaging style of equal parts acid wit and tender poignancy. His latest collection is divided into two sections. The first includes travel writing about his native United Kingdom and other assorted critical essays. The highlight of this section is without a doubt “Golf,” the author’s tirade against the staid sport (“Golf is the standard bearer and pimp for the worst types of gratuitously wasteful capitalism and conspicuous consumption”) and his attempt to understand its appeal. Gill also offers pointed commentary on dogs, hunting, drama, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (who he considers an “unequivocal, unarguable” genius) and the pitfalls of life-drawing class (“His haggis stomach rested on his thighs. Underneath drooped a penis of supreme ugliness, a Quasimodo todger, bent double, shouldering the weight of a voluminous, rucksack scrotum”). The second half of the book chronicles his far-flung travels, from the crushing poverty of Haiti to the “feathers and buttocks, the pantomime and the pumping rhythm” of Brazil. Gill also ponders his first trip into the South African bush country; the “inversion of noise, the ghost of sound” he finds in freezing Greenland; refugees in Sudan and Pakistan (“they have that faraway, defeated, listless look of the universal brotherhood of refugees, people tossed out by events”); the peculiar exercise regimens of Manhattanites; the buff, oiled-up homosexual haven of Mykonos (for the record, the author is straight); and the mechanical glitz of Las Vegas, “where irony just curls up and dies.”

Gill is that rare critic who actually has something relevant and profound to say about every place he visits. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7249-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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