Lively essays bound to stimulate debate among readers of global literature.

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ESSAYS ONE

The first of a proposed two-volume collection of essays from one of America’s most ingenious short story writers.

The goal of these essays, writes Davis (Can’t and Won’t: Stories, 2014, etc.), is to “reflect, to some extent, two of the main occupations of my life—writing and translating.” Included here are pieces that range from an appreciation of authors such as Samuel Beckett, Grace Paley, and Franz Kafka, whose works inspired the extremely short stories for which Davis is most celebrated, to essays that reflect her thoughts on the work of translation. Among the latter are essays on John Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, in which she praises Ashbery’s approach “to stay close to the original, following the line of the sentence, retaining the order of ideas and images, reproducing even eccentric or inconsistent punctuation”—not surprising, given that she, too, has been praised (and criticized) for the same approach to translation. Many of the authors Davis explores are French, from famous names such as Proust and Stendahl to comparatively obscure writers such as Maurice Blanchot and Michel Leiris, author of the multivolume “autobiographical essay” The Rules of the Game. Essays on visual artists such as Joan Mitchell and Joseph Cornell are less insightful than the pieces on literature, and some essays rely so heavily on excerpts from other writers’ works that it feels like Davis is showcasing their opinions rather than putting forth her own. However, at her best, she’s an astute critic, as when, in analyzing early works by Thomas Pynchon, she notes his tendency to go “beyond eloquence to a kind of hyper-eloquence that becomes a display of power over language itself that perhaps borders on control by coercion,” or when she writes of poet Rae Armantrout, “under the lens she turns on everything, the refractive lens, a bland world loses its blandness….I see more clearly because of the way she sees.”

Lively essays bound to stimulate debate among readers of global literature.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-14885-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

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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