Smooth and smart relief for the screen-weary.

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IMPOSSIBLE OWLS

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Long-form narratives both diverting and engaging.

In his debut collection, former Grantland and MTV News writer Phillips follows the familiar trajectory of the participatory journalist chasing down new angles on quirky subjects and subcultures—space invaders, sumo wrestlers, the Iditarod, tiger tourism in India—but his work stands out for its refreshing lack of memoir. On the whole, the author’s eclectic travelogues and essays don’t end up being journeys back to the author himself, though his keen sensitivities color each scene, and he rarely hides his feelings about the figures he meets. Phillips has fashioned a calling for himself as an American flâneur, casting out into post-colonial frontiers and marveling at the oddities he encounters from the comfortable distance of unsupervised creative prose. His style blends free-form anecdotes with capsule histories and novellike passages that don’t stop to sort out fact from perception or conjectures. Of his days among remote Alaskans, he writes, “it was such a warm place. I mean, fine, we’re all jaded here, but you could feel it: this fragile human warmth surrounded by almost unmanageable sadness.” Topics begin in earnest but drop away to follow alternate lines of inquiry. For example, a nerd’s-eye view of UFO enthusiasm surrounding Area 51 leads to reveries on the PTSD of otherwise sane people who claim alien abduction, the derelict remains of Route 66, the genocide of Native Americans, and the mysteries of time as expressed in landscape. His biographical sketches of the British royal family speculate on their private conversations (“My dear, these people are beneath us,” he imagines Prince Philip whispering to the queen), and he narrates the life of gifted Russian animator Yuri Norstein in the present-tense omniscience of a film script. Such stylistic pyrotechnics impress less, however, than the flecks of genuine insight the author dredges up from his experiences as well as the sense of a full human mind at large in the world that so many of his recollections approximate.

Smooth and smart relief for the screen-weary.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-17533-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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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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