An engrossing introduction to the riches of Chinese that should delight casual language mavens and more experienced speakers...



The world’s most widely spoken language—and one of the most daunting to learn—has its idiosyncrasies dissected in this primer.

Hung (Practical Ophthalmology, 2016, etc.), a retinal surgeon, amateur linguist, and author, is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese, and his native Cantonese dialect and thus well-qualified to interpret the foibles of Chinese for English speakers. Chief among these is a fiendishly difficult writing system that uses characters symbolizing ideas rather than the simple alphabets other languages use to phonetically spell out the sounds of words. Hung shows how Chinese characters evolved over thousands of years from rudimentary drawings of the sun, trees, rivers, and the like into complicated, abstract tangles of lines only vaguely connected to the concepts they signify. Chinese speakers learn to read and write by memorizing thousands of ornate characters, a task that significantly slows their attainment of literacy compared to the speed at which students learn alphabetic writing. Other maddening quirks of Chinese that he deftly explores are its tonal semantics and its relatively small number of phonemes, which make for a bewildering number of homonyms. The word ma, Hung notes, can mean mother, horse, hemp, or to scold depending on the tone of voice, while whole paragraphs can be written using nothing but the syllable “shi.” The author continues with a beguiling tour of China’s linguistic culture, from the folktales behind cryptic Chinese aphorisms—“Ban’s door, display axe” is an injunction to not show off one’s meager skills—to hilariously wrong-headed Chinese-to-English translations in signage. (He finds restaurant menus touting such delicacies as “binaural infected cucumber” and “grilled sexual harassment.”) Hung’s treatise blends wide-ranging, sophisticated, but very readable linguistic analysis with insightful reflections on his personal experience navigating three radically different languages, all packaged in graceful prose that wears its erudition lightly.

An engrossing introduction to the riches of Chinese that should delight casual language mavens and more experienced speakers alike.

Pub Date: April 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-92495-2

Page Count: 238

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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 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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