BUCHANAN DYING

A PLAY

John Updike has made a stalwart attempt to rescue James Buchanan from historical oblivion — and failed. His play about the last hours of the fifteenth President of the United States offers, alas, a hero who is not so much dying as dramatically dormant. Propped up on bolsters, lying in a sleigh bed at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, fat and old and white, surrounded by the threatening figures and events from a troubled past, quarreling with God, debating with himself, Updike's Buchanan is a sort of recalcitrant Job engulfed by his tormentors. The Civil War three years ended, Buchanan, the predecessor of Lincoln, is conscience-stricken over the duplicity of the North, the bulling of the South ("Once the North could call itself righteous, then human greed could have its space, and the rest was but a long and bloody grinding down"). Flitting in and out of his guilty reveries are the ghosts of Jackson, Lincoln, and the Czarina of Russia, of his mother and his father, of the woman he jilted and the niece he adored. Always a fluent writer, Updike has, naturally, many moments of decorous felicity, but the play seems, nevertheless, to have largely been composed between bouts with the scholars (the political pedantry, the affectedly venerable language) and fretful musings among the works of La Rochefoucauld and Pascal. Buchanan's wan note of misanthropy is emphasized through his highly unusual penchant for French mots (imagine that happening in the Washington of today!), one of which — "Il est plus aise de connaitre l'homme en general, que de connaitre un homme en particulier" — might serve as a fitting clue to the fundamental absence of emotional interest, since the most revealing, intimate touch about Buchanan's character in Updike's dry, cold, statuesque play comes in an early stage direction: "This is the so-called Back Bedroom, preferred by the dying man perhaps because, being over the kitchen, it was warm.

Pub Date: April 1, 1974

ISBN: 0811702383

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1974

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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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