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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more