In a memoir/essay collection, poet Mullen (Director, Creative Writing/Louisiana State Univ.; Enduring Freedom, 2012, etc.) explores emotional secrets and rupture.
The inability to pin down meaning in words reflects the slippery grasp of identity, and Mullen delves into “autobiography” in these brief, truncated sections, which are playful with language but often opaque. The entries evolve from the first sections’ dreamlike collision of the real (a car crash, a failed love affair) with the “completely unutterable” to a later essay called “Trust,” which explores with affecting frankness the author’s molestation at age 9 by her fencing instructor (“if I think of him his name comes back…immediately and easily: gliding up like air-filled buoys from an opaque and then translucent depth, flashing to the surface like markers for a wreck or trap, or floats from a storm-torn net”). In several pieces, Mullen reworks fairy tales by breaking down their narrative facets to create some intriguing new manifestations. In “Read,” she drastically tweaks “Little Red Riding Hood,” and we learn that Grandmother may have been sleeping with both the woodsman and the wolf (“well, we assume on different nights”). Fairy tales, she writes, often “lead us to normalize a situation both strange and potentially catastrophic.” In “Spectrograms (projected autobiography),” Mullen depicts the constant, arbitrary breakdown of projected images against memory and “strategies for containment.” The author’s deliberate structural interventions may be off-putting and arduous for many readers—e.g., in her essay on being “jilted” à la Miss Havisham, which is intended to relay the layers of unfathomable “complicated grief” therein. Yet in “Trust,” Mullen allows the memory of her shame at being violated by a trusted elder to unfold organically, later in life, juxtaposed with an attempt to heal by taking up fencing again, to marvelously poignant effect. Readers will relish such translucent moments in this prickly work.
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)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)