Macdonald biographer Wreszin (A Rebel in Defense of Tradition, 1994, not reviewed) presents riveting samples of the correspondence of the late critic, social commentator, and essayist.
Macdonald (1906–82) was the antithesis to the current barmy notion that people ought to be consistent. And there is no better evidence of his animated, inquiring, evolving intelligence than these letters that span 60 years. The young man who admired Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation in 1926 (for the comeuppance it showed being delivered to the “cocky, insolent niggers”) was replaced by the crusty old liberal warhorse who, in 1967, wrote what was basically a fan letter to Martin Luther King. Macdonald worked for Henry Luce at Time, and at Luce’s new publication Fortune. After a stint at Partisan Review (and an extended affair with communism), he founded his own short-lived journal (Politics), and many of his most compelling (and outrageous) letters came from this period. “I can work up a moral indignation quicker than a fat tennis player can work up a sweat,” he wrote to a friend in 1929. Macdonald was a fierce critic (of books and films), and many of his letters smoke with acidic comments about books and writers. He told Mary McCarthy that he found Dos Passos “fattish and complacent” at a dinner in 1946 and called The Age of Innocence “a very good second-rate novel.” Macdonald’s professional ethics are everywhere on display (he refused, for example, to publish with Henry Regnery because of that publisher’s support for Joseph McCarthy), and his love letters are as touching as they are troubling (many are to lovers rather than his wife). Unfortunately, there is no statement of editorial principles (so we don’t know if ellipses, for example, are Macdonald’s or Wreszin’s), and for some reason Wreszin does not identify Macdonald’s place of writing, leaving us to infer it from context—often impossible to do.
A terrific collection that maps one of the last century’s most fascinating minds. (8 b&w photos and 2 illustrations, some not seen)
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)
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").