These incisive, deeply informed essays speak to the power of literature to illuminate, and transform, the world.

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ROCKET AND LIGHTSHIP

ESSAYS ON LITERATURE AND IDEAS

A critic asks why literature matters.

In this collection of 19 essays, New Republic senior editor Kirsch (Why Trilling Matters, 2011, etc.) considers the cultural work of literature, complicating Matthew Arnold’s comment that poetry is “at bottom a criticism of life.” Focusing on writers as diverse as Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, and critics Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag, Kirsch maintains that all literature expresses “the writer’s experience of being in the world, of his aspirations and expectations and anxieties.” These essays reflect on both the writer’s and reader’s contexts, illuminating their complexities. In an analysis of Sontag’s work, for example, Kirsch argues that Cynthia Ozick, who saw in Sontag “the stylish barbarism of the sixties,” and Camille Paglia, who castigated Sontag as a self-absorbed elitist, both were right if one considers the intellectual transformations evident in Sontag’s essays and journals. Kirsch is a contributing editor for Tablet, a magazine of Jewish arts and letters, and he focuses on Jewish identity in several essays: an intellectual portrait of Hannah Arendt; a consideration of Alfred Kazin’s literary history and journals; an overview of Ozick’s fiction and filial relationship to Henry James; and an analysis of Proust’s affinity to his contemporary, Russian poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Proust and Bialik, Kirsch asserts, tried “to reconstitute the kind of absolute authority which is missing from the secular world….[B]oth are performing the modernist leap of faith, which attempts to make art itself an independent value.” The value of literature lies in its presentation of an opportunity for transcendence. In the title essay, Kirsch reveals his own anxieties about the future of literature. “Writers used to write for posterity—that is, for people essentially like us in the future.” But future readers, he conjectures, “will understand us wholly differently, and much better, than we can understand ourselves.”

These incisive, deeply informed essays speak to the power of literature to illuminate, and transform, the world.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-0393243468

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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