Just the sort of book to keep by your bed—a bundle of knowing laughs, though at whom is ever the question at hand.



John Hodgman is a busy man. And, on the strength of the published evidence, including this new book, a very strange man indeed.

Perhaps best known as the milquetoasty but oddly self-satisfied PC in the Apple commercials, Hodgman is a writer of considerable charm and much merit. As with More Information Than You Require (2008) and Areas of My Expertise (2005), this odd little volume delights in being…well, if not wrong, then bizarrely inventive, and rock-solid in the assuredness of the justice of his cause. Take this specimen, riffing on the old saw “You don’t have to be crazy, but it helps” (which Hodgman willfully misquotes to serve his murky purposes): “Well, guess what? The guy who made up that slogan probably made a million dollars, because it was very popular, and he printed it on food during the Great Depression.” Let us count the ways in which that is wrong—and also very funny. Which is entirely the point: Hodgman, a sometime colleague, aims to outdo Jon Stewart’s America and Earth book empire with sheer outré exuberance, and he succeeds at every step. Exhibit A: Everyone wants to be rich in America, right? Well, counsels Hodgman, that won’t happen, because “the billionaires who actually control the world would not allow it.” But what’s to stop you from believing you’re filthy rich, and who’s to say you’re not? That’s the glory of modern life—and because we live in a land of opportunity, strange and unpredictable things happen, which is just the reason, Hodgman asserts, that Wilt Chamberlain had to hire a “special sex butler.” Bad math, bad facts—it all adds up to what Jean-Paul Sartre would have called bad faith. But Sartre’s dead, and it’s Hodgman’s world—and besides, Sartre never wrote half as convincingly about the impending apocalypse that will be Ragnarok.

Just the sort of book to keep by your bed—a bundle of knowing laughs, though at whom is ever the question at hand.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-525-95244-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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