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

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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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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