One of the strangest and most stylish books of the year: a cultural history of swimming, by a dealer in 19th-century paintings. Sprawson learned to swim as a boy in India, at a school where his English father was headmaster. He still swims today, and one of the many pleasures of this aquatic rhapsody is his occasional foray into autobiography, as he struggles across the Hellespont (now clogged with ships) in homage to Byron, or paddles in pools where Tennessee Williams once trolled the waters. Like his natant heroes, Sprawson belongs to a singular society, ``divorced from everyday life, devoted to a mode of exercise where most of the body remains submerged and self-absorbed.'' In the 19th century, the British were the champions of this worldwide fraternity, favoring the breast-stroke and using frogs as their model for kicking. Sprawson dives lustily into the English tradition of the poet as water sprite, which reached its apotheosis with Byron, who exemplified muscular, endurance swimming, and Shelley, who was obsessed with water but never learned to float and who died by drowning. Rupert Brooke swam as a celebration of youth; for Baron Corvo, it was an expression of homosexuality. Meanwhile, across the great briny, Eakins's paintings, Whitman's poems, and London's tales Americanized the sport; later, it became a staple of southern prose as an expression of decadence or sexual release (Sprawson's title comes from a Tennessee Williams story and refers to an incident in a bathhouse). Swimming had its glory days in other nations, too, mostly those that celebrated physical prowess. In Germany, swimming became for Goethe, and later Leni Riefenstahl, a declaration of freedom and beauty. In Japan, it expressed the samurai ideal. But whether East or West, the swimmer is always ``in a continuous dream of a world under water''—a poet of the deeps. Positively liquescent with brilliant images and insights. (Photos—16 pp. b&w—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").
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)