Not a handbook for students but a guidebook for thinking about fiction.




National Book Award–winning novelist Casey (English/Univ. of Virginia; Compass Rose, 2010, etc.) waxes thoughtful about his craft in a collection of essays, some nearly 20 years old.

The title, which sounds a little how-to-do-it, is somewhat misleading. Yes, the art of fiction is the author’s subject, but these are more ruminative, speculative pieces than they are lessons in how to write stories and novels. Readers looking for bullet-point lists of specific recommendations should look elsewhere. Also: Since the essays were written over a period of decades, some of the examples and anecdotes appear more than once. Casey frequently writes about his time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (with kind words for such teachers as Kurt Vonnegut Jr.), and he alludes in several ways to Nabokov’s Speak, Memory. He repeats a story about a painting chimpanzee, and several times, he discusses the significance for beginning writers of the work of acting theorist Stanislavski. On the whole, however, Casey’s topics are compelling and useful. He examines quintessentially American writers—Twain, Whitman, Hemingway and Salinger—and he explores the concept of human justice in fiction (are you treating your characters equally?). Casey also reflects on humor—and consults some pretty good authorities (Oscar Wilde)—leaps back in history for consideration of Aristotle’s Poetics, and traces the history of sex and violence in fiction (D.H. Lawrence makes an expected appearance here). The author notes the various uses of the first person—from “My Last Duchess” to Edgar Allan Poe to “the swelling I” of Whitman—and he asserts that the “point” of it all is “to crack the skull of a character…so that the individual psyche of the character is released”—an apt and unforgettable image. The author also includes essays on vocabulary, translation and childhood reading—with a shout out to Catcher in the Rye—and ends with an affectionate tribute to his mentor, Peter Taylor.

Not a handbook for students but a guidebook for thinking about fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-393-24108-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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