A smart blend of psychology, philosophy and literary history, well-written if sometimes obscure; of broad interest to...




An inquisitive examination of the impulse that yields literary improvisation—which is to say, literature itself.

A writer, Samuel Johnson observed, will devour a whole library in order to make a book. Certainly literary scholar and philanthropist Fertel (The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir, 2011) did just that, to judge by his 30-page bibliography, a tour de force of reading in the fields of literary theory and history befitting a George Steiner or Erich Auerbach. Fertel is not as straight to the point as those two predecessors, and his narrative sometimes wobbles on an unsteady axis built on the premise that improvisation “is the trace that is always already there, anticipating and in part belying Derrida’s profound originality.” The text is shot through with ideas Derrida-ean and Jungian, establishing that improvisation—the creative spirit that leads not just to such transgressive works of literature as Tristram Shandy, but also to the Trojan horse and similarly spectacular cons—is itself an archetype, a “kind of dark disruptive version ever in dialogue with the mainstream” and “a state of being where fundamental polarities of our being contend.” As such, improvisation is naturally a slippery thing to pin down but also easy to pin on whomever one wishes: Herman Melville is an improvisational writer as much as Jack Kerouac, and as for Shakespeare, well, he’s as versatile as Odysseus. Though the terms of argument beg for more precise definition, Fertel’s field bears plenty of fruit, particularly when he gets down to particulars, as when, fairly early in the book, he enumerates the stylistic conventions of improvisation: simplicity, free association, formlessness and the like. By that measure, Kerouac fits but formula-bound Homer doesn’t, but that’s the headache-inducing stuff that only a good analysis can cure.

A smart blend of psychology, philosophy and literary history, well-written if sometimes obscure; of broad interest to students of contemporary literary theory.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-935528-68-5

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Spring Journal Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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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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