Don't be fooled by the title: this is not one of those compilations of quick summaries that help students save face on exams. In fact, Nagan's witty travesties will do a disservice to anyone who wishes to get the gist of The Divine Comedy or Crime and Punishment without plowing through hundreds of pages on his own.
Shielding himself behind a mock epigraph from Tolstoy (who supposedly declared that "I will never write such wordy trash again," after completing War and Peace), Nagan (who writes for A Prairie Home Companion) embarks on the noble mission of shortening great novels to five-minute parodies. The burlesque tone is set from the very beginning, with Nagan's admonition that the classics be read for two reasons: to understand personal misery and death in a broader context, and to impress people in conversation. His selections include 15 works by ancient and modern authors, ranging from Homer to Kerouac, representing genres from epic to science fiction. Nagan maintains original versified forms when possible, skipping over any "troublesome parts" and making up the rest. Before each parody we are offered a zany autobiographical sketch of the author, where fact and fiction are mixed into a tongue-in-cheek cocktail. Dostoevsky is introduced as a "devoutly pious Russian Orthodox Catholic" who was always loyal to the czar and was therefore arrested, executed, and exiled to Siberia. Punning adds to the playfulness of the book, as when Nagan explains that the emancipation of Russian serfs was a failure because there were too few surfers in the country in 1861.
Even if you are not familiar with the parodied material, you are sure to enjoy Nagan's biting style and grotesque interpretations of the most sacred texts of Western culture.
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").