This collection could have used more variety, but the preponderance of stories on human mortality doesn't make it a downer;...

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THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2011

Sickness, murder, death, sudden loss—the latest installment in this venerable series skews heavily toward personal essays in which people face up to life’s overwhelming sadness.

Paul Crenshaw (“After the Ice”) recalls the infant nephew who was murdered by his stepfather; Madge McKeithen (“What Really Happened”) details her prison visit to see a man who murdered his wife, who was the author’s best friend. The poet Toi Derricotte (“Beds”) tells of her lifelong love-hate battle with an abusive father. In “Grieving,” Meenakshi Gigi Durham watches as her academic husband is denied tenure, and assesses what it means for a dedicated professional to suddenly find himself in free-fall. Christopher Hitchens (“Topic of Cancer”) faces a wretched diagnosis with his usual unsentimental eloquence, as he goes “from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” The strongest, most interesting essays put a face on larger issues. In “What Broke My Father’s Heart,” Katy Butler tells how her father’s pacemaker allowed his body to live long after his brain stopped functioning; the essay raises tough questions about how expensive medical care can exacerbate more pain than it relieves. Charlie LeDuff’s deeply reported “What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?” takes a case that went horribly wrong—a 7-year-old girl killed when cops busted into the wrong apartment—and uses it as a reflection on how crime-ridden Detroit has become a toxic environment for residents and innocent bystanders alike. In another big-picture piece, “Generation Why?” Zadie Smith assesses how Facebook is a perfect reflection of the shallow mind of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Other contributors include Hilton Als, Mischa Berlinski and Pico Iyer.

This collection could have used more variety, but the preponderance of stories on human mortality doesn't make it a downer; the brave voices behind these experiences keep the pages turning.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-47977-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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