THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA

PADDLING THE PACIFIC

The peripatetic author of Riding the Iron Rooster, etc., etc., ventures with a collapsible kayak to the remote and scattered islands of the South Pacific. With a farewell to his marriage, and loneliness at his back, Theroux begins his extraordinary mission in New Zealand's Fiordland (``As long as there is wilderness there is hope''), moves on to Australia (a continent ``terrified by its own emptiness''), and then to Melanesia, Polynesia—Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, New Guinea's Trobriands, etc.—and, finally, Hawaii. He paddles the sea, he says, in the wake of myth-makers Melville, Stevenson, Gauguin, Maugham, and the Frenchman Captain Bougainville, who, in 1768, believed he'd found not only the Garden of Eden but Venus when a ``barebreasted Tahitian girl'' climbed into his ship from a canoe. To keen-eyed Theroux, the Polynesian islands are ``pleasant and feckless'' but far from paradise. Even Gauguin's Marquesas are ``dramatic at a distance'' but ``close up—muddy and jungly and priest-ridden.'' Traditional islands are ``riddled with magic, superstition, myths, dangers, rivalries and its old routines.'' Always interesting are Theroux's encounters with archaeologists who have disproved Thor Heyerdahl's popularizing theories about Polynesia. Sifting through human and animal bones, they study a still-mysterious people who carved some 800 stone statues on Easter Island and who boasted navigational skills that sent them migrating during what was Europe's Dark Ages. A sense of being beyond the reach of civilization comes when, in his intrepid kayak, off Easter Island and between the rock-battering surf and the Pacific, Theroux removes his headphones, ``hears the immense roar of waves and the screaming wind,'' and is terrified. A vast and contemplative book, seeing the ``Pacific as a universe, and the islands like stars in all that space.'' Informative not only for the voyager, but also for those wanting a new perspective on the Western continents of home. (Sorely lacking a map.)

Pub Date: June 8, 1992

ISBN: 0-399-13726-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1992

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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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