Too little light shed on Twain’s work and legacy.

MARK TWAIN: MAN IN WHITE

THE GRAND ADVENTURE OF HIS FINAL YEARS

A portrait of Mark Twain’s final years offers some revisionist history but overloads a potentially compelling narrative with anecdotal minutiae.

With April 21, 2010, marking the centennial of the death of perhaps America’s most celebrated novelist, biographers will be aiming to shine new light on corners of that oft-explored life. Former Baltimore Sun fiction critic Shelden (English/Indiana State Univ.; Graham Greene: The Enemy Within, 1994, etc.) stakes his claim on the author’s final three-and-a-half years, a period during which he was in self-proclaimed “retirement” and had previously suffered his way through great tragedies, the death of his wife and young daughter and the collapse of his finances. Yet this is also the period in which Twain developed the persona that remains indelible in the public’s consciousness: the showman in the white suit, which he debuted at a Library of Congress copyright hearing less than four years before his death, and which Shelden milks for all it is worth (and more). Twain’s final years have often been perceived as dark and bitter, yet Shelden maintains he “was also funnier and a lot happier than later generations of critics and biographers have been willing to admit.” The attempt to sustain that theme runs counter to the more riveting plot that is in the margins through much of the book but moves center stage toward the end—the power struggle between Twain’s daughters and his secretary, who assumed much of the responsibility formerly handled by his wife, who may have had romantic designs on him and who ultimately conspired with, and married, his business advisor to try to take control of his fortune. Unfortunately, Shelden devotes too many pages to Twain’s honorary Oxford doctorate, trips to Bermuda, a bungled burglary, the singing career of his daughter and encounters between “the most famous, and the most beloved, person in America” with other famous folk, many of whom Twain neither knew well nor liked much.

Too little light shed on Twain’s work and legacy.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-679-44800-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2009

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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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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