SEA BATTLES ON DRY LAND

Brodkey’s self-involved, prolix prose style, which made his long-awaited Runaway Soul (1991) a sacred monster of recent fiction, fails badly to translate into readable essays on art, culture, politics, books, etc. After winning an early niche at the New Yorker with his fiction, Brodkey, like Updike and Barthelme, could always place an essay there—no matter how slight or puffed up the piece. Unlike the latter two writers, however, his New Yorker pieces, which bulk up this collection, read like carbons of the magazine, rather than contributions to it. Often Brodkey seems to be parodying both himself and the New Yorker, such as in a string of preciously insubstantial vignettes penned for “Talk of the Town”; a superannuated New Journalism’style piece on the Academy Awards; pompously irrelevant analyses of the 1992 presidential campaign (Bush as Coriolanus?!); and a review of a biography of Walter Winchell (Brodkey seems to sound a covert endorsement of then New Yorker editor Tina Brown). Even when he suggests an intriguing parallel, such as that between the scandal-wrecked personae of Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin, he always nudges his insight into sub-Proustian “fine” writing. It’s a genuine relief to finish the post-William Shawn New Yorker sections here on celebrity and politics and Brodkey’s impersonal “personal” essays, and get to his attentive, if diffuse, pieces on literature in the book’s final quarter. The collection’s stand-out is not his extended, name-dropping reminiscence of Frank O’Hara in the previously unpublished “Harold and Frank”; rather, Brodkey’s narcissism and competitiveness are there at their worst. Instead, his review of an imposingly large John O’Hara short-story collection at once serves up an acid critique of genteel fiction, as epitomized (ironically) by the New Yorker, and a shrewd analysis of authors’ attempts to attain literary immortality—or fame, at least. A test of Robertson Davies’s plea that people’s bad journalism should not be held against them.

Pub Date: April 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-6052-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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