Members of Merriman’s generation will find this book familiar and moving; younger generations will see through popular...

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THE PILGRIM SOUL

A QUEST FOR SELF IN AN AGE OF DISILLUSIONMENT

A thoughtful memoir of the search for meaning in post World War II America.

Merriman escapes Nazi-threatened Russia by the wit and charm of her egotistical, controlling father, only to find that life in America isn’t all that her parents promised her. Growing up in New York City, she spurns the safe, bourgeoisie life of her parents and their expatriate friends and chooses the life of an artist. She smokes pot, attends art school and keeps the company of various unsavory but passionate characters. Later, attempting to paint in a small town in Spain, she leaves the risks of her family’s Jewish faith for the austerity of the Catholic Church. Her conversion takes her on another journey, as she flits from church to church, attempts to dissolve her passionless but appropriate marriage and spends time at the Grail, a women’s religious community in Ohio. Merriman’s prose is lush, conscientious and purposeful. She examines all sides of Jewish cultural identity, European versus American values, the nature of art, and religious piety. Her shopping spree for meaning is quintessentially American, and her story is an in-depth exploration of a generation set adrift between the destruction wreaked by the Holocaust and the prosperity and consumerism of post-war America. She shines a harsh light on everyone, especially herself, and she is rigorous yet kind in her judgments. While her prose can sometimes skew toward the melodramatic, Merriman never falls prey to self-indulgence or the ready-made narratives similar memoirs are so often afflicted with. Her tenuous relationship with her parents, her examination of their difficult marriage and her refusal to give up her dreams because of the sacrifices they made for her are almost shocking in light of the tragedy they survived. Her politics, especially as they relate to religion, feel hollow and confused at times, but it is the confusion of a neophyte and young person rather than the putting-on of airs so many other spiritual memoirs succumb to. All in all, her story is honest, intentional and infused with a commitment to self-exploration sorely lacking in many memoirs today.

Members of Merriman’s generation will find this book familiar and moving; younger generations will see through popular stereotypes into the real struggles of their parents and grandparents.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-557-47890-3

Page Count: 471

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2010

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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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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