A fascinating although occasionally stilted setting of old-fashioned Midwestern faith in a wider modern context.

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QUESTIONING GOD'S WILL

PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS ON PIVOTAL CONCERNS IN MY PARENTS' LETTERS

This second book in Johnson’s (Encountering God, 2015, etc.) trilogy revolves around the correspondence between his parents during their courtship in 1930s Colorado and North Dakota.

The news of the day was considerably dark: Armies were moving in Europe, and the shadow of unprecedented economic hardship stalked America. Young Walter Johnson and Margaret had recently become engaged but were far apart from each other, connected mainly by two things: the post and their shared Christian faith. Their letters are unrelentingly, almost endearingly somber, full of earnest professions of mutual devotion and copious quotations from Scripture. As in the trilogy’s first book (thanks to Johnson’s skillful editorial presence, any new readers can start with this volume and not feel like they’re missing anything), the mood of intense young love is lightened occasionally with talk of potatoes, livestock, and the low-key but persistent pleasure both Walter and Margaret obviously took in the beauty of their natural surroundings. But their main concentration in these letters was decidedly otherworldly. Each began almost every letter with a quote from Scripture, proceeded with frequent allusions to their faith (Margaret took the lead here), and closed with a blessing. It’s not empty piety. Their conviction was obvious, and it’s balanced by a good deal of pragmatic detail, but both the letters themselves and Johnson’s lengthy interpolations leave no doubt: This is as much a Christian colloquy as it is an epistolary memoir. “I am glad the future is veiled,” Margaret wrote in a March letter. “I used to long to know, but God has led me thus far, and He will continue to do so if I but put my trust in Him.” This amount of stiff piety can make for occasional tough going. The Scopes Monkey Trial was still a living memory for Walter and Margaret, and the state of their world—with Nazis abroad and Depression at home—gave them the feeling of a radically unstable world for their faith and perhaps a concomitant urge to overcompensate (at one point Walter confesses that he can’t always think of a Scripture passage to start a new letter, for instance, and then immediately writes that when he’s stuck, he prays about it, and God suggests something). Curiously, the book’s main strength comes from Johnson’s decision to broaden and deepen this questioning in his editorial commentaries on his parents’ lives and faith. He respects the fundamentalist simplicity of their beliefs but also gently interrogates it. He adds welcome texture to their literal biblical faith, expanding on their views with discussions of metaphorical interpretations of things like Noah’s Flood or the Tower of Babel and contemporary concerns like climate change or the threat of nuclear war. Johnson sees the faith of his parents as a main theme in their courtship, and his own views of the separate “magisteria” of science and faith make for every bit as interesting reading. Includes black-and-white photos of the letters.

A fascinating although occasionally stilted setting of old-fashioned Midwestern faith in a wider modern context.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945976-05-6

Page Count: 444

Publisher: EA Books, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2018

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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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