A fine addition to an important body of work that looks more and more Nobel-worthy as the years pass.



Sharp insights abound in this gathering of 11 closely related essays on fictional technique and the attitudes underlying it, by the eminent Peruvian-born author of such contemporary classics as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982) and The Feast of the Goat (2001).

This is ostensibly a series of letters to a fledgling novelist (about whom we learn precisely nothing), who’s doubtless a fictional device himself. Vargas Llosa amiably pours forth, nevertheless, the wisdom accumulated during a lifetime of writing, reading, and thinking about the impulse toward literary creation (“. . . a deep dissatisfaction with real life . . .”), the roots of fiction in each writer’s own life and opinions, and specific problems of creating and balancing form and content, as solved by such masters as Flaubert, Melville, Faulkner, and fellow Latin Americans Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Alejo Carpentier. The finest chapters are those in which Vargas Llosa addresses specific technical issues by analyzing relevant classic texts: e.g., the differences between chronological and psychological time as expressed in Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Joyce’s Ulysses, and Mexican Augusto Monterroso’s hilarious single-sentence masterpiece, “The Dinosaur”; relationships between the real and the fantastic in James’s The Turn of the Screw and Woolf’s Orlando; and “Chinese box” construction” as perfected in The Thousand and One Nights and Don Quixote. If he actually exists, Vargas Llosa’s “young novelist” is fortunate indeed to profit from such lightly worn learning. If he doesn’t, the rest of us can be grateful for this relaxed tour through the provinces of the fiction-maker’s imagination. And the general reader will be happy to be pointed toward such comparatively little-known watershed works as João Guimarães Rosa’s The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, Juan Carlos Onetti’s A Brief Life, and the enchanting medieval epic Tirant lo Blanc.

A fine addition to an important body of work that looks more and more Nobel-worthy as the years pass.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-11916-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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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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