A sober, reflective inquiry into morality and values as practiced and passed down by six generations on a Vermont family farm. To fellow New Englander Thoreau's dictum that ``the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,'' Fish (English/Western New England College) offers a credible counterpoint: ``Man's craving for signs and wonders, his capacity for high endeavor, and his perverse susceptibility to boredom lead the less anchored souls to underestimate the value of quiet, orderly lives.'' Fish's grandmother and uncles, who run the family farm with typical Yankee rectitude, are nothing if not anchored. Unquestioning in their dedication to their land and livelihood, unflinching in their loyalty to one another and to a sense of moral and religious obligation, they stand tall in his boyhood memories as people of quiet, heroic dignity. Conflicted between the family tradition of duty and self-sacrifice and the more heady pursuit of self- discovery, the ``vagrant scion'' takes the road less traveled by: intellectual inquiry. By the time a midlife reckoning compels him to revisit the farm, the site of his moral education, he is both estranged from the family's virtuous life (which seems puritanical by contemporary standards) and unhappy with the gradual unraveling of the spiritual and ethical ties that bound it up. Without sentimentality, he conveys the complexity of farm work—the changing rhythms of a day, a season, a year; the diverse trades, from carpentry to financial management to butchery, that farmers must master. More strikingly, he manages to limn beautifully the richness of lives that appear on the surface dull and circumscribed. Nowhere does the probity and forthrightness of his forebears echo more truly than in his prose, which is artful and judicious. More than family history or mere coming-of-age memoir, Fish's first effort is a wise, clearheaded look back at a more selfless era that stressed community needs over individualism.
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").
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)