Just when Sedaris seems to have disappeared down the rabbit hole of ironic introspection, he delivers a cracking blow of...

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WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES

Older, wiser, smarter and meaner, Sedaris (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, 2004, etc.) defies the odds once again by delivering an intelligent take on the banalities of an absurd life.

The author’s faithful fans probably won’t be turned off by his copyright-page admission that these pieces, most seen before in the New Yorker, are only “realish.” They feel real, whether Sedaris is revealing his troubling obsession with a certain species of spider or describing a lift from a tow-truck driver who kept saying things like, “yes, indeedy, a little oral give-and-take would feel pretty good right about now”—the ring of truth adds to the book’s horrified-laughter factor. The author still draws from the well of familial tragicomedy in pieces that dissect his parents’ taste in modern art (“Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool”) and their reactions to what he wrote about them in his first book (“fifty pages later, they were boarding up the door and looking for ways to disguise themselves”). Most of the essays, however, chronicle expatriate life in England, France and Japan with his long-suffering and improbably talented boyfriend Hugh. Sedaris positions himself as a hapless Bertie Wooster to Hugh’s Jeeves, lazily allowing his partner’s mother to clean their apartment (“I just sit in a rocker, raising my feet every now and then so she can pass the vacuum”) and marveling at Hugh’s interest in, well, doing things. A highpoint is “All the Beauty You Will Ever Need,” which starts as a rant about his boyfriend’s ludicrous self-sufficiency (“Hugh beats underpants against river rocks or decides that it might be fun to grind his own flour”) but twists into a sharp declaration of love that’s all the more touching for its lack of sentimentality.

Just when Sedaris seems to have disappeared down the rabbit hole of ironic introspection, he delivers a cracking blow of insight that leaves you reeling.

Pub Date: June 3, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-316-14347-9

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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