If you want to know how many times Chuck Palahniuk uses the verb “snuff,” this is just the thing. Illuminating entertainment...

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NABOKOV'S FAVORITE WORD IS MAUVE

AND OTHER EXPERIMENTS IN LITERATURE

Literary criticism by the numbers.

Writers write—and write and write. In fact, notes former Slate staffer Blatt (co-author: I Don't Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, 2014), they write more once they get going than when they started. A useful example is J.K. Rowling, whose first Harry Potter book came in at 78,000 words—but who wrote a follow-up three times as long. “If the unknown Rowling had written an 870-page version of the first book in 1997,” writes the author, “it would likely have had a much harder time getting published (and getting readers to pick it up).” We are able to know things such as book inflation by applying techniques of big data to the corpus of literature. In Blatt’s opening examples, the discussion centers on adverbs, which writers such as Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway have scorned. By doing part-of-speech searches of whole books or even just looking for words that end in -ly (only one class of adverb, as Blatt notes), we can see that those two authors didn’t always practice what they preached—and again, that Hemingway’s early, harder-worked books were leaner than his later ones, True at First Light being almost twice as adverbial as The Sun Also Rises. One takeaway for writers: “The best books—the greats of the greats—do use a lower rate of -ly adverbs.” Statistical approaches to literature have sometimes produced barren results, but Blatt has obvious fun poking around in the stacks, conducting literary experiments that sometimes turn into object lessons: if you want to write like a Brit, use “brilliant,” but not too much, lest you sound like an American trying to sound like a Brit. If you want to avoid ridicule, avoid clichés like “past history.” And always avoid opening with the weather—unless you’re Danielle Steel.

If you want to know how many times Chuck Palahniuk uses the verb “snuff,” this is just the thing. Illuminating entertainment for literary readers.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0538-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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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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