Certain to make its way onto college course lists, Showalter’s lucid, comprehensive survey should also find an appreciative...

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A JURY OF HER PEERS

AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS FROM ANNE BRADSTREET TO ANNIE PROULX

At last—a New World companion volume to the distinguished feminist scholar’s pioneering A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977).

Showalter (Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents, 2005, etc.) begins in the 17th century, spotlighting Anne Bradstreet’s poems and Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative as American literature’s founding documents. Poetry gets a great deal of attention, from 18th-century African-American Phillis Wheatley through Emily Dickinson to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, mad housewives who trashed domesticity and challenged male poetic hegemony in the 1950s and ’60s. Especially in her coverage of the 19th century, the author casts a wide net and considers the commercially successful novelists denigrated by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “a d—d mob of scribbling women.” She makes no exaggerated artistic claims for Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Susan Warner, Maria Susanna Cummins and their ilk, but the author cogently elucidates how their popular fiction created an environment in which Harriet Beecher Stowe could write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the first Great American Novel by a woman. Home, husbands and housework were staple subjects, and sources of conflict, but not until the 1890s did New Women like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin scandalize critics with frank depictions of female sexuality. As the authors become better known, Showalter’s work necessarily becomes less groundbreaking. It remains intelligent and thorough, however, as she moves from Edith Wharton and Willa Cather at the beginning of the 20th century through the fraught relations between modernism and feminism in the ’20s, women writers both liberated and constrained by political radicalism in the ’30s and the repressive postwar cult of femininity that provoked the feminist explosion of the ’60s and ’70s (as well as such prominent naysayers as Joan Didion and Cynthia Ozick). Chapters on the ’80s and ’90s survey a more diverse, self-confident literature in which Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Jane Smiley, Annie Proulx and others write matter-of-factly as women without feeling limited in any way as to subject matter or style.

Certain to make its way onto college course lists, Showalter’s lucid, comprehensive survey should also find an appreciative audience of serious general readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4123-7

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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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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