Though the pieces here, being radio filler, are simply too short to do their subjects justice, it’s still a fine read for a...




Thoughtful if glancing remarks on word usage, fads, and other matters of pressing concern to public-radio listeners.

Gathering greatest hits from his dozen-odd years as a contributor to Fresh Air, Xerox Corporation think-tank denizen Nunberg offers homages and brickbats to the popular culture, especially as it is spoken and written. Some of the topics are the usual fodder of the past decade—the O.J. Simpson trial, for one, and the much-mooted chads of the last national ballot held in Florida. These would be tedious to revisit were Nunberg not so adept at finding an offbeat twist of the sort that would not occur to most of us: in the matter of the Simpson trial, what interests him is the media’s use of the coyly euphemistic phrase “the n-word,” whereas what concerns him about hanging chads is not the outcome of the election but the etymology of the term. (Was it, as some have suspected, a borrowing from a Scottish dialectal term meaning “loose rock”? Was it from the ringing name of a keypunch machine’s inventor, one Mr. Chadless? Stay tuned.) Elsewhere, Nunberg writes of the bizarre examples that turn up in foreign-language phrasebooks, such as “our coachman has been struck by lightning” and “God bless you. Now hurry”; the life and death of slang words and phrases, from the perennial “cool” to the please-stop-now “whatever”; the apparent disappearance of the word “history,” replaced by “heritage,” and of the word “galoot,” replaced by, well, nothing in particular; and the current president’s “nonchalant ungrammaticality”—which, he writes, comes not from any authentic mastery of Texas patois but from the condescending WASP view that “taking pains with language [is] the unerring signal of someone who is trying too hard.”

Though the pieces here, being radio filler, are simply too short to do their subjects justice, it’s still a fine read for a logophile.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-618-11602-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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