A celebration of what it means to be alive in a world of great music.

LISTEN TO THIS

A vibrant new collection from New Yorker music critic Ross (The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, 2007).

The author brings together the best of his writings, mostly from the New Yorker, with revisions, expansions and a few recently drafted pieces. As such, there is not much new for those who have followed Ross over the last 15 years, but for those who have not explored his work, this is a fine place to start. This book is the ideal introduction not only to the author’s criticism, but to what it means to be a great music critic. For Ross, that means writing with a personal mission that approaches music, as he puts it, “not as a self-sufficient sphere, but as a way of knowing the world.” Indeed, the author is at his best when he artfully pulls down the artificial yet powerful boundaries that keep the classical tradition apart as ponderous and exclusionary in favor of a worldview more embracing of personal musical responses that remain indifferent to genre and social class. The results are mostly successful. The promising second chapter, which traces a four-note musical figure over the course of Western music history, quickly devolves into pedantry, an effect that supports rather than undermines the premise that classical music and its more popular variants can resist the stereotypes associated with buttoned-up white men. Likewise, some of Ross’s arguments rely on the very same false constructs—the decline of classical music, the rising musical literacy—that he rails against elsewhere. Yet the author is delightfully convincing throughout most of the book. What is truly remarkable has less to do with the variety and breadth of his individual subjects—be it Bach, Brahms or Björk—and more to do with his gift to divine meaning within the aggregate of the musical styles, traditions and personalities to which he exposes readers.

A celebration of what it means to be alive in a world of great music.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-18774-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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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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