NATURAL OPIUM

SOME TRAVELERS' TALES

Peevish, polished travel reports by a novelist (Health and Happiness, 1990, etc.), biographer (Dashiell Hammett, 1983), and book critic (Terrorists and Novelists, 1982). Johnson's voyages, which range from Thailand to Utah, have taught her that ``travel brings us as nothing else does to a sense of ourselves,'' and that, when interacting with locals, ``the actual existence of these people is irrelevant to the passions...they arouse.'' This, then, is a self-referential, almost solipsistic approach to travel in which the voyager becomes an armored vehicle nosing through alien lands, shooting barbed observations at will. A typical interlude occurs on a ``tiny, shabby'' boat off Australia, when Johnson sneers that another passenger ``had no conversations, had never been anywhere...I thought about how sad it was to be him.'' Later, though, she admits that ``I know I've been a pig''; Johnson never hesitates to turn her guns on herself. Balancing this sniping is her splendid descriptive talent; stepping on to the Great Barrier Reef, she finds it ``entirely alive, made of eyeless formations of cabbagey creatures sucking and opening and closing, yearning towards tiny ponds of water.'' But sourness rules the day. In India, a potentially funny episode concerning a cracked bottle of wine turns into a fiasco; in Africa, Johnson scolds ivory traders; in Switzerland, ``there seemed to be nothing pink, light, luxurious, no concept of decor.'' The author's vision seems blinkered, in part, by her social class: In Japan, she complains that ``all is Vuitton bags and Chanel,'' and usually she finds peasants frightening or disgusting. Travels in England, South Africa, Egypt, Singapore, and China leave the same bitter aftertaste. Johnson's honesty is admirable: Isolation and discomfort are part of the traveler's lot, unacknowledged in the guidebooks. But most travelers find ways to overcome them, and very few make their readers suffer through the ordeal. Just like natural opium: crystalline images and insights that leave a nasty headache. Maybe Johnson should have stayed at home.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41346-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

Did you like this book?

more