Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.



An assortment of musings, cultural critiques, and memoir.

In this zesty collection of 74 pieces—some merely paragraphs—revised from work of the last 35 years, essayist, fiction writer, and biographer (of J.D. Salinger) Shields (Writer-in-Residence/Univ. of Washington; How Literature Saved My Life, 2013, etc.) reflects on family, love, contemporary culture, and his sometimes-problematic connection to other people. “I’m drawn to affectless people whose emptiness is a frozen pond on which I excitedly skate,” he admits. And: “I have trouble reading books by people whose sensibility is wildly divergent from my own.” In five sections, Shields considers Men (mostly his father); Women (many about a college sweetheart); Athletes; Performers (Oprah, Adam Sandler, Bill Murray); and Alter Egos, a motley category that contains essays on Brown, which he attended in the 1970s; infamous memoirist James Frey; and Shields’ career as a school-age athlete. “From kindergarten to tenth grade all I really did was play sports, think about sports, dream about sports,” he writes. “The body in motion is, for me, the site of the most meaning.” Beset with a severe stutter, he hoped that excelling as an athlete would make others forgive him for his “disfluency.” He shared a love of sports with his father, who suffered fom bipolar disorder and occasionally disappeared from the family for treatment. In several essays, Shields examines his Jewishness: “self-consciousness, cleverness, involution, ambivalence, pride, shame.” And he shows a particular sense of humor: he quotes comedian Milton Berle “turning down a second drink at a Catholic charity event: ‘Jews don’t drink; it interferes with our suffering.’ ” Shields credits lifelong back pain with giving him “an invaluable education in the physical, the mortal, the ineradicable wound.” He sums up what he learned: “Pain is inevitable,” one doctor told him. “Suffering is optional.” Many essays end in such aphorisms, and “Life Story” consists entirely of declarations that read like bumper stickers.

Uneven but mostly sharp and appealing.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-35199-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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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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