A love letter that sometimes loses control of its purpose.



Despite its decline in popularity, classical music retains enormous personal and cultural significance.

So avers first-time author Kramer (English and Music/Fordham Univ.), whose noble ambition here is to explain to a bigger classroom why more people ought to love what he loves. He’s a smart guy and knows that he will gain little by dissing pop culture, so he does his best to discuss and even salute the popular. He alludes to films ranging from the expected (The Pianist) to the surprising (Soylent Green) and to such TV shows as West Wing and The Simpsons. He tries to keep it real, even committing some pronoun-case errors for (presumably) an I’m-just-plain-folks effect. He does his best to show how people are like melodies, how the piano is a soul inside a machine. His passion is palpable on every page. He asks keen questions, such as, “How does the representation of pain give pleasure, particularly if the pain is strong and unrelieved?” But Kramer ultimately ends up preaching to the choir. He assumes his readers already possess considerable knowledge of music theory, discussing without any explanation major and minor keys, leitmotifs and contrapuntal interplay; he quotes Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and other heavyweights, as well as the poetry of Shelley, Wordsworth and Arnold. It’s almost as though partway through the manuscript he decided to forget about populism or popularity and give you his real—i.e., highbrow—reasons. The final chapter contains the most striking image: a busker playing a Bach violin sonata at a New York City subway station to an audience of more people than you would predict. This prompts Kramer to wax hopeful and even philosophical, but he underestimates one factor at least as powerful as the music: The girl playing it was hot.

A love letter that sometimes loses control of its purpose.

Pub Date: May 7, 2007

ISBN: 0-520-25082-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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