A bracing, essential engagement with the ramifications of our lives before the small screen.

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TELEVISION

A BIOGRAPHY

The article in the subtitle of this book is telling. The eminent film writer offers not a definitive or comprehensive history of TV but a personal celebration of his particular fascinations and a provocative consideration of the ways in which the very mechanics of the medium affect the audience, both as individuals and as a mass culture.

In chapters often focusing on slightly left-field topics, including the problem of “role models” and the psychological effects of the commercial break, Thomson (How to Watch a Movie, 2015, etc.) organizes the book thematically rather than chronologically. This organization suits his allusive, digressive style, as he analyzes the ways in which TV’s unique qualities—endless variety, constant availability, and insidious tendency toward narcotized reassurance, to name a few—shape and contextualize viewers’ understanding of the world. By the author’s reckoning, the influence of TV on human experience is so profound that we perch on a precipice of complete unreality (or virtual reality), existing only in relation to the screen; in his formulation, the “elephant in the room” of TV’s primacy has “become the room.” Thomson’s insights are typically unsparing and acute, and while many of the implications of his argument are troubling, his love and admiration for the best of TV—Breaking Bad gets high marks, and no Thomson fan will be surprised to find multiple appreciations of Angie Dickinson—are palpable. When it suits his purpose, the author delves into more straightforward histories of institutions such as PBS and the BBC, and he provides memorable sketches of figures from Lucy Ricardo to Larry David (“David has as confused an attitude to the public as Charlie Chaplin had. But like Charlie he has found release and self-love in performing. He is maybe the most fascinating awful person on television”), but this is not merely a reference book. It’s a love letter and a warning, beautifully written and deeply disquieting.

A bracing, essential engagement with the ramifications of our lives before the small screen.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-500-51916-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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