The best of these essays are more than mildly charming, but Epstein’s self-satisfied opinions can be more than mildly...

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THE IDEAL OF CULTURE

ESSAYS

A prolific essayist offers forthright opinions on literature, writing, culture, and aging.

The former editor of the American Scholar, Epstein (Emeritus, English/Northwestern Univ.; Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays, 2016, etc.) gathers recent essays, most published in Commentary, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal. Having turned 80 in 2017, Epstein takes pride in being “out of it,” oblivious to popular culture, contemporary novels, art, and politics. As a younger man, he describes himself as having been a “strong liberal, leaning to the radical in politics,” but the social and political upheaval of the 1960s changed those views profoundly. As a teacher at Northwestern, he saw intellectual authority questioned and sullied. In several essays he laments “the death of traditional liberalism” as represented by Hubert Humphrey and Lionel Trilling and the rise of “dogmatic academic feminism, victimological African-American Studies,” and the widespread prevalence of “victim studies.” As a result, there “has been the emphasis on race, class, and gender and the concomitant politicalization—some would add trivialization—of much that goes on in the humanities and social sciences departments.” Victimhood is not limited to academia, according to Epstein, but pervades literature (memoir and the fiction of Toni Morrison, “a connoisseur of victimhood whose novels deal with little else”) and politics. Politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, writes the author, are not evaluated “on their intrinsic qualities” but “because of the accidents of their birth; because they are black, or women, or, one day doubtless, gay, or disabled.” Epstein waxes nostalgic for the serene gentility of WASP culture. Gone are the days, he writes, when “stability, solidity, gravity, a certain weight and aura of seriousness suffused public life.” Although “in our egalitarian age,” cultural elitism is damned, Epstein happily champions “the best that has been thought and said.” In an essay on wit, the author modestly admits that he is not witty but “mildly charming.”

The best of these essays are more than mildly charming, but Epstein’s self-satisfied opinions can be more than mildly infuriating.

Pub Date: May 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60419-123-3

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Axios Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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