An imaginary textbook for a daunting Black Studies course that very few students would want to take for credit.




African-American self-creation in literature and music receives a meandering study.

Young, a National Book Award finalist in poetry (Jelly Roll, 2003, etc.) and academic (Atticus Haygood Professor/Emory Univ.), takes nearly 400 overstuffed pages to arrive at a two-page consideration of the titular Danger Mouse mashup of Jay-Z and the Beatles. Many readers may be enervated by then. Young uses “storying”—the “lies” spun by black artists to form their personal and artistic identities—as the purported foundation for his sprawling tome, which stretches from the post-slavery 19th century to the rap era. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright and poets—especially Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, and Bob Kaufman—are the focus in the early going, though prewar blues and such performers as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday also figure prominently. Young’s shotgun methodology and his propensity for pointless riffing and overwrought observation obscure any thread that might keep readers in touch with his supposed theme. The writing becomes a farrago of unfocused research, leaden academic language, incongruous snippets of autobiography and excruciatingly contorted textual readings. Even his most personal and thoughtful chapter, about Beat master Kaufman, manages to dilute the poet’s crackling musicality. In later chapters, the author makes a case for postwar African-American music—bebop, soul, the free-swinging rock of Jimi Hendrix, disco, hip-hop—as foundational postmodernism. Though he manages to drop sharp, highly personalized science about the import of rap artists like Run-DMC, Public Enemy and NWA, his explications are so fatiguing that readers will lose patience before Young closes his argument. Young strives for encyclopedic scope, but the narrative is ultimately shapeless.

An imaginary textbook for a daunting Black Studies course that very few students would want to take for credit.

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-607-1

Page Count: 476

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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