A novelist and professor’s essay collection that almost coalesces into a memoir.
Zacharias (Creative Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro; At Random, 2013, etc.) recounts how, after the publication of her first novel (Lessons, 1981), she spent 10 years writing her second, only to see it rejected, as was her third. “You write well, but you won’t sell,” editors and agents told her. “Today’s reader wants a high concept plot and an upbeat message. Your work is literary. It’s dark, but not Oprah dark. There’s no market.” Though the author didn’t exactly buy the explanation, she does write well, and she has since found a home in literary journals. The chronological continuity here and the thematic interweaving of family, place, art and mortality give this collection a cohesiveness that makes some of the lesser pieces—e.g., “Geography for Writers,” which mainly catalogs the spaces where various writers have written—seem intrusive. Yet the format also undermines the strength of some of the strongest pieces, such as the collection-closing “Buzzards,” in which her memories of her father’s life and suicide would have more climactic power if she hadn’t already shared these with readers in earlier essays. “A Grand Canyon” finds the writer working on many levels, as she fulfills her mother’s dream to travel there, a trip that reveals an emotional chasm between her teenage son and his grandmother and presages “the heartbreaking canyon that will open between us, because in that part of the story the generation gap isn’t between my mother and son but between my son and me. One day the love affair ends for the child, though it never does for the parent.” And then there’s the canyon itself, which the author illuminates as more than a metaphor.
Zacharias shows a keen eye for detail (she’s also a photographer), a strong sense of place, and an ambivalent, unsentimental examination of blood ties and family legacy.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
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)