A book that seems to have been written because a writer has to do something after his regular gig of two decades disappears.

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MONOLOGUE

WHAT MAKES AMERICA LAUGH BEFORE BED

The top writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno offers some reflection on late night’s influence but mainly shares jokes and anecdotes.

Macks (How to Be Funny2003), who has also written for most of the top awards shows and many of the leading politicians, is more ambitious in theme than execution. He promises a book about “the larger meaning of how late-night comedy monologues and sketches can influence and impact us,” but he mostly discusses Leno and the experience of working for him. Leno, it seems, is a great guy who won the late-night ratings wars because he was the most talented and likable. Macks knows how tough it is to be funny night after night, and he has plenty of respect for anyone who does it. Throughout, he borrows jokes from all of them, along with reprinting Leno’s first monologue post-9/11 in its entirety and chronicling the arc of Bill Clinton as a font of material. Readers get a sense of what it’s like to have the job of “feeding the monster,” writing 100 or so jokes per day for a comedian who will select 15 or 20 from among a thousand. Macks calls himself “Jonny the Joke Boy,” and though he moved to comedy from running political campaigns for Democratic candidates, he and Leno never let political affiliation get in the way of a laugh: “When it comes to jokes, I’m a writer first, Democrat 615th.” The author has little in the way of dirt to share, though his contempt for the presidential campaign of Al Gore is evident throughout (he’s much more of a Clinton apologist), and he praises “Charlie Sheen, a great guy and a great guest.” But mainly he shares jokes, his own and those of others.

A book that seems to have been written because a writer has to do something after his regular gig of two decades disappears.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-17166-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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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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