These jokey prayers are likely to resonate beyond the smiles they produce.

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The Book of Extremely Common Prayer

A humorist with an ear for social commentary uses the language of prayer to highlight the absurdity of the modern world.

Veteran humorist and stylistic prankster Whitten (Do-It-Yourself Constitutional Amendment Kit, 2008, etc.) returns with a volume that is as much an experiment in style as a play for laughs. Having already set his sights on self-help culture and modern American politics, Whitten turns his perceptive eye to religion, particularly evangelism. Each page offers a humorous observation framed in the style and language of prayer. While not openly mocking, the book is far from reverent. Whitten’s stylistic choices are more for comic effect than commentary, but his subjects aren’t far from those of actual prayers—prayers of thanks, confusion, repentance and mourning, among others, all done up in his own comic language. Rather than getting the language of the devout, readers get a “Prayer for Paul McCartney to Retire Already” or, in one of the book’s funnier examples, a mealtime prayer that expresses thanks for the food while asking for protection from the growth hormones, pesticides and preservatives that were used to help create it. At their best, these jokey conversations with God are laugh-out-loud funny; at their worst, they approach the level of an awkward stand-up routine. What lingers about the book, however, isn’t the comedy. Through the course of the prayers, a character begins to develop that turns out to be much more than just witty. Despite the lighthearted tone he takes, readers can see in this supplicant a man who is baffled by his surroundings and trying quite desperately to find answers to life’s big questions. As they try to make sense of a senseless world, these mock prayers often don’t differ much from the genuine thing, which elevates Whitten’s latest entry above being simply a joke book. By smashing together the language of prayer and observational humor, Whitten is able to reveal the cracks and contradictions in modern life that tickle us as much as they trouble us. To his credit, the book spends as much time scanning the zeitgeist as delivering punch lines.

These jokey prayers are likely to resonate beyond the smiles they produce.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9774807-5-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Vitally Important

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2014

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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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