Lots of erudition and bloody (right-ish) fun.

A LITERARY EDUCATION AND OTHER ESSAYS

A curmudgeonly cultural critic collects a potpourri of his pieces from the past 30 years, most from Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

Prolific essayist, biographer and novelist Epstein (Essays in Biography, 2012, etc.) never leaves readers wondering about much. He delivers fierce punches to the guts of all sorts here: writers he doesn’t care for (Updike, Mailer, Morrison, Vidal, Roth, Rich—both Frank and Adrienne), practices he abhors in higher education (the death of the liberal arts, emphases on feminism and Marxism and various other -isms in the literature curriculum), publications he doesn’t like (the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review), child-rearing practices he disdains (contained in a wild essay called “The Kindergarchy: Every Child a Dauphin”), poetry he doesn’t like and sentences he hates. Such a collection inevitably leads to some repetition, so readers hear a few times about his college days (the University of Illinois, his transfer to the University of Chicago), his early days of being a liberal, his peacetime service in the military and his conversion to conservatism—a transformation occasioned in major part by the excesses of the 1960s and ’70s. Epstein does not often communicate any sense of uncertainty; he dispenses opinions and decisions with all the conviction of a judge on an afternoon TV show. Things are so, he seems to say, because I declare them so. Still, his pieces inevitably entertain as well as educate—and/or annoy). He eviscerates Paul Goodman, some colleagues at Northwestern University (where he taught for decades), Maya Angelou and Spike Lee, and he declares that Dreiser and Cather surpass any subsequent American novelists. He also blasts the National Endowment for the Arts (he served the agency for a bit).

Lots of erudition and bloody (right-ish) fun.

Pub Date: June 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60419-078-6

Page Count: 520

Publisher: Axios Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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