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)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)