A throwaway line from an essay on amnesia sums up this standout collection: “I followed the higher principle of pleasure,...

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MORE ALIVE AND LESS LONELY

ON BOOKS AND WRITERS

One of America’s most accomplished writers looks back between the pages of other writers' books.

Lethem (A Gambler’s Anatomy, 2016, etc.) is no stranger to books, between working in bookstores and writing regularly about them for venues like the New Yorker and Harper’s. Here, novelist Boucher (Golden Delicious, 2016, etc.) fondly curates a thoughtful and often sly collection of Lethem’s thoughts on books, films, and other works of art culled from the past two decades. The essays, reviews, and other ephemera are divided into sections, ranging from “Engulf and Devour” (books in the literary canon) to “Lost Worlds” (long-lost gems). One of the delights is Lethem’s personal voice, often laced with arch humor but absent the jarring postmodern irony that sometimes marks writers at McSweeney’s. The author also lacks literary pretension, tackling titans like Kafka, Melville, and Dickens but also penning tributes to Rod Serling and Batman. There are affectionate pieces about Walter Tevis’ obscure sci-fi novel Mockingbird (1980) and the late novelist Thomas Berger. Occasionally, there’s self-conscious commentary, as in Lethem’s footnote on Kazuo Ishiguro in which he admits he’s embarrassed by some of these pieces. He also offers a wonderful triptych of stories about Philip K. Dick, whom Lethem dubs a “necessary writer, in the someone-would-have-had-to-invent-him sense…American Literature’s Lenny Bruce.” There are some strange experiments—e.g., a feature written entirely in footnotes, the last of which reads “I’m not making any of this fucking shit up.” Another imagines an interview between the director Spike Jonze and the fictional character Perkus Tooth from Lethem’s Chronic City (2009). Fans may also enjoy Lethem’s encounters with writers he admires, ranging from affectionate memories of Philip Roth to a caustic encounter with Anthony Burgess.

A throwaway line from an essay on amnesia sums up this standout collection: “I followed the higher principle of pleasure, tried to end where I’d started: with writing I loved and wanted to recommend to someone else. That is to say, you.”

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61219-603-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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