A collection of literary criticism that demonstrates how the Midwest of Willa Cather and Sinclair Lewis has been significantly altered in the works of novelists who have explored the region in recent decades.
Athitakis, a freelance critic who has published in the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, Chicago Sun-Times, and other venues, debuts with a journey through the Midwest (whose boundaries are fluid) and through some key works by writers he thinks are most effectively using the region in their fiction. Arranged thematically, the chapters deal with such subjects as the changes in the region’s legendary work ethic, immigration, religion, and fiction, eccentricity and oddness, the bildungsroman, and so on. In each section, the author identifies (in boldface) those writers he wishes to examine and/or recommend. Many of the names are familiar to readers of serious contemporary fiction—e.g., Marilynne Robinson, David Foster Wallace, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen—but some names, especially those in the final chapter (writers on whom he has not focused earlier), will surprise. Others will be familiar principally to the cognoscenti: Stuart Dybek and Angela Flournoy are just a few of them. Among the most impressive aspects of Athitakis’ work is his comprehensive knowledge of the writers of the region, both former and current. He ably discusses not only their well-known works, but also their early and/or minor works. Throughout, he offers perceptive observations about each writer: Marilynne Robinson’s works are “more irreverent about religion than they let on,” and Gillian Flynn has identified “a secretly menacing quality to the Midwest that often goes unspoken.” Unafraid of declaration, Athitakis writes that Middlesex is Jeffrey Eugenides’ “greatest achievement,” and he boldly delivers a possible candidate for The Great American Novel: Leon Forrest’s massive Divine Days (1992).
Readers may cavil with Athitakis’ choices, but they can’t question his research, erudition, and clarity of expression.
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)