A compelling story about the author’s biological and adoptive families and how they shaped his sense of self.

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A FAMILY APART

SLEUTHING THE MYSTERIES OF ABANDONMENT, ADOPTION AND DNA

An adoptee’s memoir of finding his own place in the world.

In this debut, Steffen traces his personal history, revealing layer upon layer of hidden truths as he unravels the stories he’s grown up with. He dates the events in his life from “the disappearance,” when his mother abandoned her three children and left rural Iowa. This event, coupled with his father’s unwillingness to care for his children, was a defining moment in the author’s life, as it led to the Steffen family adopting him and his sister. His stories of growing up with his adoptive parents, who belonged to a strict religious movement and weren’t inclined to show affection, fill this book, as do tales of his own teenage rebellion and gradual maturity. By the time he reached adulthood, Steffen found himself driven by a need to sort out the mysteries of his birth family, and he tracked down surviving relatives and other near-strangers who supplied crucial details. It’s a complex, sometimes-tragic story, and along the way, he slowly builds relationships with half-siblings, aunts, and more distant relatives and discovers new information about his mother and father. Although the narrative moves slowly in the opening chapters, it finds a steady pace after Steffen begins his sleuthing. Readers learn the truth bit by bit, just as the author did, and his personal growth is just as important as the facts he uncovers. Steffen’s descriptions are sharply drawn, particularly of the rural communities he visited during his search: “A first run of American Graffiti or Rocky or Star Wars seemed entirely plausible,” he writes. He also offers insights into his own character (“I have the right to remain silent, but I don’t have the ability”) that will gain readers’ sympathies as he unveils his past and embraces his present.

A compelling story about the author’s biological and adoptive families and how they shaped his sense of self.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1570741357

Page Count: 417

Publisher: Greyden Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2015

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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

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

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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