Veteran short-story writer Ayer strikes gold with these enchanting sketches of the motley relatives and neighbors who peopled her mother’s rural West Virginia girlhood—back when the 20th century was young and spry.

In 1903, Nellie Wister was 8, the eldest daughter of a successful farmer and a proud homemaker with deep roots in Chinkapin Creek, a frontier world of fob hats, molasses and moonshine, tucked into a remote corner of the Mountain State. The automobile had not yet arrived, and men were still called home from the fields by dinner bells ringing across blue hills and green valleys. Channeling her mother’s voice, Ayer employs well-crafted narrative nuggets and crisp dialogue—plus a few choice nostalgic photographs—to recreate the impressions made on Nellie’s alert young mind by assorted visitors to the Wister homestead, where mares are covered, tobacco is spit and pear butter is turned. We meet the perpetually dressed-in-mourning Jane Hamrick, who “had fifteen children by fifteen different men.” We learn that Cousin Jonathan “ain’t worth the powder it would take to blow him up.” Then there’s Cecil McComas, who enjoyed the distinction of having two horses shot from under him during the Battle of Sharpsburg and “always spoke as if he were shouting over cannon fire.” And one Miss Nettie Hunter who, when introduced, “couldn’t be counted on to answer because she took laudanum.” If Jane Austen had dabbled in whittled wood instead of pieces of ivory, she may have produced this winsome little book. Yet Ayer’s wry sketches plumb profound themes. As her tales accumulate, the travails of the poor, the lost and the luckless of Chinkapin Creek quietly emerge, along with Nellie’s growing sophistication and wonderment over the vicissitudes of courtship, marriage, faith and death. Ayer skillfully imbues the raw perceptions of youth with the wisdom of age. Her Chinkapin Creek is at once funny, fulsome and strange—a place where small, obscure lives achieve a poetry all their own. An accomplished, creative memoir by a writer with serious literary tools—West Virginia, we hardly knew your soulful depths.


Pub Date: June 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615452715

Page Count: 131

Publisher: Chinkapin Publishers

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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