Criticism is not indispensable to art,” James writes. “It is indispensable to civilization—a more inclusive thing.” His...

AS OF THIS WRITING

THE ESSENTIAL ESSAYS, 1968-2002

Superb collection of criticism at once deeply serious and deliberately accessible, more than justifying its author’s claim that “readability is intelligence.”

Born and raised in Australia, a London resident for four decades, James (The Man from Japan, 1993, etc.) possesses all the strengths of the best British literary journalists—wide-ranging erudition, a knack for the perfectly turned sentence, a seemingly effortless wit—without the besetting weakness many of his peers display for gratuitous nastiness designed to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their subjects. James, by contrast, always lives up to his declared principle that “a limiting judgment of an artist should be offered only after full submission to whatever quality made him remarkable in the first place.” (That comment occurs in one of the valuable “Postscripts,” which allow him to admit second thoughts or clarify intent without rewriting the original article.) Seamus Heaney, D.H. Lawrence, James Agee, and George Orwell are among the writers to whom he applies exacting yet appreciative scrutiny. Even when he more or less trashes John le Carré’s pompous later novels or Norman Mailer’s embarrassing Marilyn, he voices respect for previous achievements and shows no glee over his thumbs-down judgment. James can nail a work’s essence in a phrase (the “garrulous pseudotaciturnity” of Lillian Hellman’s memoirs, for example), but the generosity and perceptiveness of his full-length appraisals are even more impressive. Poetry arouses his particular passion, as vividly demonstrated in the essays on W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin, and he’s just as good on Primo Levi and Mark Twain. Like his idol, Edmund Wilson (subject of another excellent piece), James roams with assurance through world literature past and present, acknowledging no distinctions except those of quality. He couples a democratic belief that art must illuminate common human experience with an unabashed insistence on high standards; though he has written for and about television and does not disdain mass appeal, his assumed audience here is the serious general reader.

Criticism is not indispensable to art,” James writes. “It is indispensable to civilization—a more inclusive thing.” His stimulating and thrilling work forcefully makes a case for that bold declaration.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-05180-3

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more