Pithy, wise, and gently encouraging advice from an acclaimed fiction writer.




A demonstration of how precision, care, and hard work are the writer’s crucial tools.

McCann (Creative Writing/Hunter Coll.; Thirteen Ways of Looking, 2015, etc.), winner of a National Book Award and many other honors, draws upon 20 years of teaching to offer more than 50 brief chapters focused on all stages of the writing process. Although intended for beginning writers, the volume would be helpful to experienced writers, as well. Anyone hoping for rules, however, will instead find many lyrical aphorisms. Prose is “as close as you’ll get to dancing. Listen to it create itself.” As for plot, it must “twist our hearts in some way.” McCann sees writing as discovery of one’s self and the world: “Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know. Step out of your skin. Risk yourself.” Writing can begin with a philosophical idea or an obsession, but writers should be careful about becoming didactic. “You are not here,” writes the author, “to represent cultures or grand philosophies. You don’t speak for people, but with people.” Those people are invented characters, whom writers must know intimately. Details about motivations, foibles, and eccentricities all contribute to a character’s depth and credibility, even if those details do not find their way into the narrative. “What terrifies them? What do they feel most guilty about?” are among questions a writer needs to ask. Writers must read “adventurously. Promiscuously. Unfailingly” to develop an astute awareness of how narrative and sentences are built. Assuming that awareness, McCann tosses out myriad alternatives for writing issues such as structure and plot. Unlike many other writing guides, this one addresses finding an agent and editor and the “shell game” involved in getting a blurb. The author cautions against measuring one’s achievements against other writers and, refreshingly, advises, “don’t get too attached to the romantic illusions of yourself” and about the writing life. “Being a writer is not about cocaine or the White Horse Tavern.”

Pithy, wise, and gently encouraging advice from an acclaimed fiction writer.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-59080-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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 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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