Readers may cavil with Athitakis’ choices, but they can’t question his research, erudition, and clarity of expression.

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THE NEW MIDWEST

A GUIDE TO CONTEMPORARY FICTION OF THE GREAT LAKES, GREAT PLAINS, AND RUST BELT

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9977742-8-3

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Belt Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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