As always, Oates is curious, probing, and memorably startling.




Another collection of sparkling literary essays from the prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction.

Culled from her literary reviews in the New York Review of Books, the Kenyon Review, and other venues, these short essays probe the reasons we continue to read, both classics and contemporary works, and—despite the torture—write. Titling her collection after a smoldering line by Emily Dickinson, Oates (Humanities/Princeton Univ.; The Man Without a Shadow, 2016, etc.) finds enormous inspiration (and passionate literary obsession) in pursuing the answer to the age-old question, why do I write? In her initial essay, “Is the Uninspired Life Worth Living?” which establishes cohesion to the collection, she finds particular resonance with writers who grasp the essential subversive quality of literature—poets are often seized by a force beyond their control, being not in their “right mind,” and “out of [their] senses,” as Plato elucidates in Ion. (Poets, of course, were banned from the Republic because they could not conform to the authority of the state.) “Inspired” is akin to being “haunted” or “captivated,” and in these far-ranging, occasionally didactic essays, Oates delights in authors who have been selectively obsessed and captivated by their material: Rebecca Mead by Middlemarch; Claire Tomalin by Charles Dickens; Julian Barnes harnessing “catastrophe into art” while writing of the death of his wife of 30 years in Levels of Life. Always eclectic, Oates also includes essays on the visionary detective fiction of Derek Raymond; Wild West fabler Larry McMurtry; Louise Erdrich’s North Dakota novels, which Oates compares to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County cycle; and, most sensitively, Jeanette Winterson’s memoir of coming out to her North England Pentecostal mother. Oates ends with a strange visit to San Quentin prison with a group of female graduate students—not to teach, however, but to feel shocked by the experience.

As always, Oates is curious, probing, and memorably startling.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-256450-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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 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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