Pleasant enough but a soufflé that leaves Steinbeck with nothing to worry about.

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THE DOG WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN

TRAVELS WITH ALBIE: AN AMERICAN JOURNEY

Meanderings around America in the company of an obliging yellow Lab.

“Not every trip we take is life-altering or results in a profound epiphany,” writes freelance journalist Zheutlin (Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living With Purpose, Loving With Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things, 2017, etc.), who demonstrates the truth of that statement. Closing in on retirement age, he and Albie hit the road in homage to John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. Zheutlin travels wide but seldom deep, gathering anecdotes over 9,000 miles from New England to the West Coast and back. He notes that Vicksburg, Mississippi, “even with its rich Civil War history, seemed forlorn” and hastens on to Natchez, which “was prettier and seemed more prosperous.” If he’d lingered for a moment in Vicksburg, he might have learned why that might be the case and why residents of that city still nurse hard feelings for their neighbors downriver. Some of his stories have more weight to them. A nice moment comes early on, when he describes the so-called Jackson Whites, "a race living in the Ramapo Mountains” who were probably a mixed population of runaway slaves, Native Americans, Hessian deserters, and other people who had good reason to want to be left alone. Albie is definitely the star of the show; like all Labs, he can be growly at times but is otherwise an amiable presence. It doesn’t help his case that Zheutlin uses Albie to sentimental, sometimes-cloying ends, as when he writes of a homeless woman he encounters, “Albie, of course, cannot make judgments about people’s circumstances, which may be why meeting a dog that cannot and will not discriminate against you based on your circumstances, your race, or your religion must be…a lesson for us all.” Nostrums notwithstanding, the narrative is unchallenging and easygoing, like something Charles Kuralt might have delivered in his TV travelogues of old.

Pleasant enough but a soufflé that leaves Steinbeck with nothing to worry about.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64313-201-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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