A journey across Middle-earth with an English teacher.
Olsen, (English/Washington Coll.) who both teaches Tolkien courses and hosts a popular website (The Tolkien Professor), reveals his affection for—obsession with?—Tolkien’s texts in numerous ways. He directly praises passages as “brilliantly executed” and “masterful,” but merely by giving this young people’s book the full attention of his scholarly skills, he imparts to it an elevated status. Olsen declares he is more interested in explanation than in literary theory, so he offers a chapter-by-chapter explication of the characters, events, landscapes, traditions, conflicts and songs that fill Tolkien’s enormously popular 1937 novel. (The Peter Jackson two-part film opens in December.) The author also refers continually to the original edition, which Tolkien later revised when he decided to integrate The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings. Olsen rarely finds anything negative to say (he does observe that one moment is not “completely successful”) and sometimes even twists himself a bit to defend Tolkien. The author traces the conflict between the Baggins and Took sides of Bilbo, emphasizes the lust for treasure that nearly results in all-out war at the end, and observes the changes in Bilbo’s character as he moves from his safe hearth to the fiery furnace of the dragon’s lair. He spends lots of time with the songs, revealing meanings in them that would generally escape most readers, young and old.
Tolkien’s roads, it seems, go ever, ever on, but with as amiable and knowledgeable a guide as Olsen, the weather remains fine and the journey sweet.
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)
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").