A companionable recollection of a life interrogating culture through language.




A teacher of English as a second language recounts a rich career.

In 1974, debut author Chomak came to the discomfiting realization that his master’s degree in English literature was no guarantee of a university job. He stumbled into a position teaching English as a second language part-time at Holy Names College in Oakland Hills, California, a post that became full time in 1976. He would remain there until 2003 and continue as an ESL teacher until 2012, a career spanning almost 40 years. Over the course of those decades, the author taught students from countries all over the world, including Japan, Iraq, Qatar, Switzerland, and Argentina, among many others. Chomak’s memoir divides into a series of generally brief anecdotes—many of them uproariously humorous—that explore the misunderstandings that can arise from cultural and linguistic cleavages. For example, the author’s first name sounds an awful lot like the Arabic word for elephant. Many of the stories are almost vaudevillian, revolving around the comedy that issues from terminological misunderstandings and mispronunciations and the untranslatability of jokes. Some of the tales involve drama in the classroom—when a Brazilian student failed to earn the much-sought-after Certificate of Proficiency by one exam point, she threatened Chomak with a knife. Others are more serious—a Saudi student found himself attacked by his peers in the wake of 9/11. Despite the generally lighthearted tone of the book, the author repeatedly returns to the theme of cultural difference and what it means to properly understand its nature: “Teaching, for me, has embodied the paradox of relating to a group while trying to connect to each individual in that group.” Chomak writes informally and jocularly, like he’s taking readers out for a leisurely drink and some friendly conversation. Despite his eagerness to skillfully share lessons learned, his remembrances are never didactically delivered. In addition, this is a valuable resource for teachers since the author thoughtfully reflects on his pedagogical practices. Finally, Chomak shares considerable insights into the character of the English language, one riddled with its own peculiar practices and colloquialisms.

A companionable recollection of a life interrogating culture through language.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9966198-0-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Louisa Street Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2017

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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 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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