But mostly he is. Cloying, overlong diversions best suited for 15 minutes of public radio. Nothing more.

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FRAUD

Fifteen disparate personal essays running from wisecracking self-deprecation to a misplaced, though welcome, earnestness from yet another young, sardonic NPR graduate.

Rakoff may wish to steal the mantle from fellow ironist David Sedaris but in his intermittent humor barely manages to surpass Sarah Vowell, both of whom pop up in uncredited cameos here. His studied, fish-out-of-water neurosis emerges early in the collection with “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave,” as he’s forced (on assignment, natch) to leave his Manhattan apartment and accompany a couple of salt-of-the-earth types up a mountain. The author’s newfound bumpkin buddies are heroically patient with him as he ponders how to survive the experience with only one Xanax. On a kibbutz (“Rise, Ye Wretched of the Earth”), Rakoff moans that “the sun is just always shining” and finds that he’s unsuited to outside work. In “Christmas Freud,” he secures himself a spot as the lone live-action figure in a Christmas department-store-window pastiche as what one would imagine is the ultimate for Rakoff: excruciatingly self-conscious and the center of attention all at once. And those are the funny pieces. In “I’ll Take the Low Road,” Rakoff goes to deepest, mythic Scotland, where he makes the shocking discovery that the culture war between Loch Ness believers and Loch Ness infidels is, well, nonexistent. Even less a story is “Hidden People,” a meandering, dull investigation of the storied elfin people of Iceland. Only when he insinuates himself into other people’s lives and fades from focus do Rakoff’s observations take on some measure of poignancy. The finest entry here—“We Call It Australia”—follows a group of Austrian teaching recruits into the New York City school system and manages to lampoon Americans and poke holes in American stereotypes at the same time. Rakoff has a charming point of view and a sure-footed voice, so long as he’s not kvetching and kvelling.

But mostly he is. Cloying, overlong diversions best suited for 15 minutes of public radio. Nothing more.

Pub Date: May 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50084-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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