WALKING POSSESSION

ESSAYS AND REVIEWS, 1968-1993

Hamilton's book reviews and ``literary articles'' cover a broad span of time and a wide range of interesting and uninteresting subjects. There's little here in the way of penetrating analysis or critical energy to lift these pieces beyond the time-bound immediacy of the column or weekly review. He leads with his best, the first piece being ``A Biographer's Misgivings,'' wherein he discusses his own difficulties in writing and researching the lives of the poet Robert Lowell and the elusive J.D. Salinger. Sorting through the conflicting versions of important episodes in Lowell's tangled life left him wondering ``which Lowell life'' he should attend to. The Salinger biography, of course, with which he hoped ``to arouse in Salinger a sort of grudging curiosity,'' ended in the famous lawsuit and the publication of ``the legal version'' of his book. Most of the other pieces are straight book reviews with little resonance beyond their first appearance. His look at two widely different Sylvia Plath biographies elicits a somewhat muddled and unsolicited defense of the much-maligned Ted Hughes, while his take on a Robert Graves bio reminds him that the poet has ``always been thought of as a bit unsound . . . with . . . a touch of the bogus.'' He has high praise for Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint but little use for the ``weary fictioneering'' of Norman Mailer's ``Nile-long course of Ancient Evenings.'' Aldous Huxley's letters, he notes, show ``what his novels led us to expect: the apotheosis of arid intellectualism.'' A few of the essays will leave American readers cold and bewildered: the doings at the 1982 World Cup; a tough week for the cricketers at Lord's; an incomprehensible look at three books on the financial foibles of the Spurs football team. Hamilton's half-page foreword insufficiently introduces these writings: One wants background, grounding, some element to link such disparate topics into a unified body of work.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-201-48397-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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