BURNS

A BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT BURNS

In this hefty, definitive, and humorless life of Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96), Mackay, acknowledged ruler of Burns country—editor of The Burns Chronicle, the complete works (1986), the letters (1987), and the concordance (1989)—leads revisionary forces in rescuing Burns from what he believes is an undeserved reputation for lust and debauchery. Most of the more than 900 volumes of Burns biography published since the poet's death have perpetuated the myth of the simple, impoverished ploughman who fathered at least 70 illegitimate children and drank himself to death. Concerned with the life rather than the works, as well as with the posthumous scholarly tradition, Mackay maintains that Burns was, in fact, an ``honest fellow'' (as he called himself on one occasion)—a sober, industrious, pious, and patriotic citizen who married the mother of his nine children; supported the four or five he had with various other women; ran a 170-acre farm; rode 200 miles a week as a tax collector; kept intricate account books; composed reams of poetry; collected volumes of native songs; and was addicted—if at all—only as a ``workaholic not an alcoholic.'' Mackay challenges every legend in the scholarly tradition: Burns's education; his relations with the Church; the origins and objects of his most famous poems; his reputed homosexual relationship; and the identity of ``Highland Mary,'' who supposedly inspired his greatest poetry. From genealogies to legalisms, Freemasons, and farm subsidies, the author overcomes the opposition with irrefutable and weighty evidence. But however convincing Mackay is—however flawless his research and arguments—there remains a need to believe in another Burns: the flawed, vain, lusty, convivial poet driven by ungovernable appetites; Dionysian enough to write the love songs, the bawdry, and the drinking ballads he's remembered by; familiar enough with fellowship, foolishness, and the ``cup of kindness'' to write ``Auld Lang Syne.''

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-85158-462-5

Page Count: 749

Publisher: Mainstream/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1993

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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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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