Examination of the mid-20th-century novels that reenergized the Democratic Party’s staid image.
Surveying a range of works including Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men and Joan Didion’s Democracy, Szalay (English/Univ. of California, Irvine; New Deal Modernism, 2000) posits that “selling hip to white consumers involved selling them the fantasy that consumption could turn them black—but only for as long as they wished to be.” Faced with mass defection from Southern conservatives opposed to civil rights and New Deal social programs, the Democratic Party rebranded itself as the arbiter of a culturally savvy neoliberalism that promised its supporters both personal independence and social justice. Unfortunately, white liberal authors often held conflicted views of African-Americans, idolizing them as “authentic” hipsters, while fearing their growing power to displace white hegemony. Szalay painstakingly delineates the contradictions inherent in books like William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, written from the perspective of a slave leading a revolt. In 1968, Styron’s book simultaneously won the Pulitzer Prize and prompted an outpouring of criticism. Rabble-rouser Norman Mailer also received his share of criticism and adulation for his essay “The White Negro,” which cemented the Beat-era image of African-Americans as heroic prototypes to be held at arm’s length, worshiped for their musical prowess and allegedly innate sense of “cool.” Angst-ridden white middle-class authors like John Updike and E.L. Doctorow plunged headfirst into the melee, often by grossly caricaturing African-American males on behalf of their own liberation. In his best chapters, Szalay addresses Ralph Ellison’s complex take on civil rights in his posthumous Three Days Before the Shooting…, and Joan Didion’s typically ambivalent and glacial response to the Democratic Party’s shifting alliances.
A persuasively argued, though dense and occasionally pedantic treatise—will appeal to students of literature and liberal politics.
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)