A candid, sensitive, and occasionally humorous account of life as a funeral director.




A debut memoir that meticulously documents every aspect of growing up and working in a Flushing, Michigan, funeral parlor.

With both his father and his uncle working as funeral directors, it’s safe to say that Rossell was born into the trade. He was involved in the day-to-day workings of the parlor from an early age; he speaks of his father always on call and how the family would “rush through dinners so we could finish before the phone would ring and my father would have to leave the table.” On winter mornings, the author and his brother would clear the snow from the funeral parlor driveway. As Rossell grew older, he helped his father in his work and, in time, became a funeral director himself. The memoir opens with an examination of embalming, autopsies, and showing and restoring bodies. The author’s delivery is both laconic and frank: “A man died with his nose eaten away by cancer. There were just two holes where his nose had been, so I created a new nose for him.” This tone makes for an unflinchingly honest memoir that deals with such things as mortuary school, caskets, memorial services gone bad, lawsuits, thieves, and even seemingly paranormal happenings. What’s most striking is the funeral director’s proximity to everyday, small-town life. For instance, he reminisces about sitting in a bar with his brother and getting asked by a local man named Elwood about the difference between a regular funeral and a cremation. His brother’s wry response: “Elwood, about two thousand degrees.” However, the author is never glib about his profession. He uses humor at the right moments to make death bearable, but he always shows the utmost respect and support to those families that employ him. Rossell’s generosity and dedication make him a knowledgeable and likable narrator. This, in turn, transforms a potentially dark memoir into an approachable, enjoyable, and revealing read.

A candid, sensitive, and occasionally humorous account of life as a funeral director.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4575-5701-9

Page Count: 179

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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