In his latest, Geary (Deputy Curator, Nieman Foundation for Journalism/Harvard Univ.; I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, 2011, etc.) discusses many of the forms wit can take. To add to the fun, he writes each chapter in a style that mimics the topic under discussion. A chapter that compares wit to fencing is a “dramatic dialogue” between philosopher Denis Diderot and literary theorist Madame de Staël, who says that, to be witty, one must have what is known in fencing as a riposte, “a quick, robust return thrust.” Another chapter, written as a scientific paper, examines “how wit might work in the brain” and includes footnotes, figures, tables, and diagrams. Geary has great fun with the many different styles: an essay written in the manner of 17th-century English playwright Joseph Addison’s Spectator essays on “the nature of wit”; a section written in jive; a poem in the form of a rap song; an art history lecture that states that “seeing is an interpretive act,” such as when one detects a human face in a rock outcropping; even a sermon. The use of different styles for each chapter is sometimes too clever for its own good, but one is likely to come away from the book convinced of many of the author’s arguments, as when he demonstrates that “puns are not wit’s lowest form but its highest expression.” Many of the anecdotes are hilarious, as when Geary notes that, after a Columbia University philosopher stated in a lecture that no language exists in which two positives make a negative, another professor muttered from the back of the hall, “Yeah, yeah.”
“To see clearly, look askance,” Geary advises. He heeds his own advice to entertaining effect.
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").