BETTER THAN LIFE

This ode to the joys of reading is itself no joy to read. Pennac, a novelist and secondary school teacher in France (where this book was a bestseller), takes an idea that, if presented succinctly, could make a fairly interesting essay: Parents and schools, each in their own way, help turn reading into a dreary activity; however, if students were encouraged to engage in reading as an enjoyable process rather than as something else to be tested on, some might recognize and regain the sheer pleasure that, as young children, they once took in stories. Unfortunately, the author, even as he recognizes the simplicity of this idea, labors mightily to make it sound profound, and all too often the resulting text is simply fatuous, as in these sentence fragments rendered as four separate paragraphs: ``Read. Out loud. For the sheer pleasure of it. His [your child's] favorite stories.'' At times Pennac's comments sound like they have escaped from an intensely saccharine self-help book: ``What is love, if not the gift of our preference to those we prefer? Those acts of sharing fill the secret fortress of our freedom.'' Rounding out the volume is a discussion of ten rights Pennac claims for readers, including the rights not to read at all, not to finish what one does read, to read for escapism, and to reread particular favorites. Yet on closer inspection, some of these rights are less than absolute. For example, in discussing the right to read anything, ``anything'' is equated with novels, and Pennac is endorsing the right to read ``bad'' novels not for themselves but as part of the process of moving toward becoming readers of ``good'' novels. For Pennac the happy ending may be for young people to become readers like him. If reading is indeed ``better than life,'' you can't prove it by this book.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-88910-484-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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