Questions of disease abound in Orenstein’s debut memoir in verse.
In 1979, 100 years after Scottish surgeon William Macewen performed the first successful removal of a brain tumor, the 17-year-old author found himself in need of the same critical operation. From this experience springs a poetic memoir that follows the chronology of Orenstein’s diagnosis, surgery, healing, recovery, and adaptation. Almost all of the poems are written in free verse with strophes that often alternate, sometimes without clear purpose, between couplets and triplets. The frequently abrupt variations in line length could have been more effective with stronger line breaks. That said, this collection still manages to cohere, due to the sheer peril of its subject matter. Especially engaging is the way that the author mashes up clinical terminology with the language of internal anguish. Words such as “myoclonic,” “diplopia,” “lambda,” and “gurney” mix together with “helotry,” “aura,” and “agony.” For example, the remarkable and unusual “December 19, 1979” includes an extended, clinical, prosaic, and detached description of neurosurgery. However, it then fizzles out to a disappointing and perplexing ending. Even more intriguing is “The Man in the Intensive Care Unit,” in which the reader experiences the fullness of the poet’s tender sensibilities as he recalls the death of his hospital roommate: “you beg God / I have been a good man, please.” One wishes for more of this raw vulnerability instead of the book’s later shortcomings, such as sexist sentiment (“that wimpy sissy girly word / feelings”) and awkward expression of a sheltered worldview (“thankful for my warm bed / and for this cozy middle-class house”). There are also hokey openings, at times; for instance, a Webster’s dictionary definition begins “Birth of an Empath.” That said, the collection does contain a few individual gems and intelligently explores some of its subjects, such as double vision.
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").
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)