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)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)