A cracking good read, something that all too few essay anthologies manage to be.



Inaugural edition of a new series proves that there’s always room for another delivery method for quality short nonfiction.

Series editor Early (English, African and African-American Studies/Washington Univ.; This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s, 2003, etc.) and guest editor Dickerson (The End of Blackness, 2004, etc.) have gathered a vibrant mix of voices that belies the volume’s anodyne label. Early states up front his ecumenical goal: collecting the best essays authored by African-Americans. Even at that, he leaves the door open for others to write on racial issues; many will be surprised to see Andrew Sullivan’s chest-swelling ode to Barack Obama concluding the volume. Whatever the criteria involved, the book is a solid piece of work gathered from a wide range of publications (the New Yorker, Vibe, the St. Petersburg Times, etc.), loosely collected into subject buckets like “Activism/Political Thought” and “Internationally Black.” Early’s contribution, “Dancing in the Dark,” is a smart take on race and the South in film that recasts To Kill a Mockingbird as possibly more insidious than even Birth of a Nation. Emily Raboteau’s “Searching for Zion,” a labyrinthine account of her odyssey to reconcile her blackness with the spiritual quest for Jerusalem, is a masterpiece, as is Bill Maxwell’s sad three-parter about his disillusioning stint as a professor at a historically black college. Between these long-form classics crowd a host of shorter, divergent viewpoints. The effect is something like a loud family dinner with plenty of opinionated relatives who don’t always get along. Right-wing scold John McWhorter pops by to complain about the lack of American identity in modern youth, and Chloé Hilliard talks brashly about young black lesbians in Brooklyn acting just as gangsta as the boys. Meanwhile, off to the sides where it’s quieter, Obama writes of reincorporating faith into the progressive dialogue, and Malcolm Gladwell offers fresh insights into what I.Q. testing actually measures. There are a few weak selections (Michael Eric Dyson, we’re looking in your direction); fortunately, they are on the shorter side.

A cracking good read, something that all too few essay anthologies manage to be.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-553-80691-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2008

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


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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