Largely apocryphal and hardly scholarly, but a lot of fun.

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BOBBED HAIR AND BATHTUB GIN

WRITERS RUNNING WILD IN THE TWENTIES

A snappy, anecdotal tale of the writerly Jazz Age ladies—Fitzgerald, Millay, Parker, and Ferber—and the men who adored them.

Hard to believe there's anything new to learn about the celebrated writers in the tap-happy ’20s, but veteran celebrity biographer Meade (The Unruly Life of Woody Allen, 2000, etc.), her eye ever on the swinging detail, manages to scrounge a fresh tidbit as she traces the erratic intersection of her characters from year to year over the decade. Dorothy “Dottie” Parker is her favorite protagonist, fired from her job at Vanity Fair at age 26 in 1920 to embark on a celebrated, albeit hard-won trajectory as critic, short-story writer, and, eventually, novelist, as she struggles personally over the years with her first disintegrating marriage, alcoholism, and tendency toward suicidal depression. Edna St. Vincent Millay, called “Vincent” throughout, takes no prisoners in her amatory swath of Greenwich Village, where she conquers Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, among others, while trying to create a writer's life away from her two meddling sisters and mother. By 1923, Vincent has won the Pulitzer (still rare for a woman) for her Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, and eventually switches gears to settle down in the Berkshires with her Dutch businessman husband. Alabama belle Zelda Sayre, meanwhile, marries Scott Fitzgerald at age 19 in St. Patrick's Cathedral, intent on a wild public spectacle of flapperhood with the publication of This Side of Paradise. Meade's Zelda, however, is no shrinking violet: a muse to her husband (who regularly appropriates her diary entries and ideas), she develops discipline and ambition in ballet and story-writing to supplement the family income. Meanwhile, Edna Ferber, who, like Parker, is a favorite of the Algonquin Round Table, appears all too sketchily here, as the towering proto-feminist, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter who did it all on her own—a marvelous study of brains, ambition, and hobnobbing. Overall, Meade supplies plenty of unsavory superfluity among the well-worn facts (abortions, sad marriages, boozy cutups), and even some recipes for Prohibition cocktails.

Largely apocryphal and hardly scholarly, but a lot of fun.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-50242-7

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2004

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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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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

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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