A jumbled collection of random stories and half-baked ideas.

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HOW TO TALK ABOUT PLACES YOU'VE NEVER BEEN

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF ARMCHAIR TRAVEL

Using historical anecdotes and contrarian rhetoric, psychoanalyst Bayard (French Literature/Univ. of Paris 8; Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, 2008, etc.) argues that physical travel is unnecessary, and even inadvisable, when trying to understand faraway places.

Throughout the book, the author celebrates the “armchair traveler,” but he defines this person in several different ways. Bayard does not believe that Marco Polo actually traveled to China but instead stayed near medieval Venice and collected the stories of real travelers. Iconoclastic to the end, he criticizes the anthropologist Margaret Mead for failing to understand the Samoans she met firsthand, yet he praises Immanuel Kant for inventing modern philosophy without leaving his hometown. Bayard is fond of Phileas Fogg, the Jules Verne character who circled the globe but barely interacted with any part of it. Perhaps the book loses something in the translation, but Bayard makes few discernible points except that he doesn’t consider travel a worthwhile endeavor. “If you are obligated in spite of everything to travel,” he posits, “the best solution is to do it as quickly as possible, avoiding lingering anywhere along the way since nothing good can come of it.” His position is so bizarre as to seem satirical, but if he’s kidding, Bayard never winks. In the strangest chapter of all, he references the journalist Jayson Blair, who wrote about a war veteran in Texas, but the encounter was both made-up and largely plagiarized. Then he writes, “if we leave aside the moral dimension of journalistic trickery, Jayson Blair’s story does pose the almost philosophic question, already latent in our previous examples, of knowing what it actually means to be in a place.” Perhaps this “almost philosophic question” is almost valid and almost worth taking seriously. But in the end, the book feels like a pseudo-intellectual exercise. Bayard strives to applaud imagination and postmodern thinking, but his treatise comes off as stubbornly provincial, an overthought con game.

A jumbled collection of random stories and half-baked ideas.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-137-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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