Nappy with the sympathy, solicitude, and slightly off-kilter admiration that the fans of Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) are known for, Millier (American Literature/Middlebury College) delivers a long, detailed life of the woman who wrote contemporary American poetry everyone seemed to respect without ever being able to say quite why. Nor does Millier say exactly why, or even much guess. Bishop's tremendously hard life—her fatherlessness; her mother in and out of mental hospitals; her alcoholism; her bullied apprenticeship with Marianne Moore; her dependence on unstable female lovers; her uncomfortable years living in Brazil; and her general inability to much do for herself—here seems to set up a horrid scrim before which her artistic modesty comes off as a virtue. The poetry's unexceptionable dexterity and precision were accepted by the literary mainstream gratefully (in contrast to Robert Lowell's great loony dramatics, for instance), and Bishop was showered with respect. But respect seemed to nourish her not at all (does it ever?): Her life was scarred by demons, secrecy (she was terrified of being exposed as both a drunk and a homosexual), physical illness, and spiritual vertigo. Bishop's balanced, impersonal poetry reads, in this light, as carefully placed bandages for cosmetic purposes only. Millier clearly doesn't want just to ``rip the mask off'' Bishop; she keeps references to the poetry always well in sight (while almost never dipping in to analyze or even to recommend); and her disaste for scandal and luridness is refreshing. But there's a muddiness here—Bishop is revealed but then covered up again without psychological or literary acuity—that can't quite convince us that Bishop's life or her art matters as much as these pages assume that it does.
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)
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").