A top-notch literary talent invites readers to find new inspiration in these works, and in her own.

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IN ROUGH COUNTRY

ESSAYS AND REVIEWS

A poignant, nostalgic collection of literary criticism by one of America’s premier authors, gathered in the aftermath of her husband’s recent death.

After 48 years of marriage, the author’s husband, Ontario Review founder and editor Raymond Smith, died unexpectedly in February 2008. In a remarkably forthright and moving preface, Oates (A Fair Maiden, 2010, etc.) explains the emotionally fraught “rough terrain” from which many of these essays derived. For example, because she was working on “Boxing: History, Art, Culture” when her husband passed away, she could return to the essay “only sporadically, with a residual sort of excitement, as there might be observed, in the waning light of the iris of the eye of a decapitated beast.” In these selections, divided into “Classics” (e.g., Poe, Dickinson, Malamud), “Contemporaries” (Updike, Doctorow, Rushdie, Atwood) and “Nostalgias” (“Nostalgia 1970: City on Fire”), the author effectively combines her highly tuned sensibilities, sharp research and concise, vivid prose. As a fiction writer of the highest order, Oates shares her subjects’ writerly obsessions with mortality, loss and death. She recalls, for example, the oeuvre of Poe and its effect on her own early work, and of Emily Dickinson, who offered a “fusion of female stoicism and pragmatism.” The author writes that Annie Leibovitz’s recent book of photographs containing excruciating shots of her dying friend Susan Sontag has the “heft and intransigence of a grave marker.” She admires the work of James Salter, whose heroines are “women in extremis, for whom all pretense has vanished,” and the poetry of Sharon Olds for that “something subversive, even mutinous in the poet’s unflinching child-eye.” Always a teacher, Oates imbues each essay with a careful sifting of the evidence and consistently acute observations.

A top-notch literary talent invites readers to find new inspiration in these works, and in her own.

Pub Date: June 29, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-196398-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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