A biography that rounds out a writer whose life has been distorted by the mythic proportions of his experiences.

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ORWELL

WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION

A discerning psychological reading of a highly fraught writer's life.

Meyers (Gary Cooper, 1998, etc.) sifts through Orwell's celebrated adventures, finding strands of anxiety that influenced his great works. To begin with, Orwell's father was no authority figure: a mid-level civil servant in British India, he made little money overseeing the cultivation of opium and was absent for most of his son's childhood. In grammar school and at Eton, Orwell suffered from his status as a scholarship boy, succeeding academically but socially never fitting in. Despite his antipathy toward his father and the culture of his public school, however, Orwell went on to join the Burmese Imperial Police—a sign of the grip his background had on him. Meyers argues that this conflict recurred throughout Orwell's life. He was regularly caught between a sense of duty and his own unique, and often critical, perspective of the institutions that influenced him. Meyers links this analysis with allusions to fiction and essays (like "Shooting an Elephant") to show how art took its cue from life. Tramping around France and England—dropping out of life, pitching the dilemma entirely—helped resolve this conflict enough for him to work as a schoolmaster and write his first book. Leaving everything behind and taking the big risk (i.e., fighting in the Spanish Civil War) inaugurated the blossoming of his career, however. He overcame his feelings of inadequacy and began actively developing his political theories, asserting that totalitarianism on both the Left and Right were jeopardizing democracy and individualism. The gentler side of Orwell comes out in Meyers’s discussion of his family life. His rather mundane (yet sweet) courting of Eileen O'Shaughnessy, the strain WWII placed on the marriage, and their adoption of a son placed Orwell in a rare role. He seemed wide-eyed and open, a far cry from his usual self-tormented or icily perceptive self.

A biography that rounds out a writer whose life has been distorted by the mythic proportions of his experiences.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04792-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

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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