A worthy companion for writers and readers that entertains and enlightens.




Jane Austen’s “five-times-great-niece” draws inspiration and instruction from her ancestor’s novels and letters in this valuable compendium of advice.

In a letter to her niece Caroline, an aspiring writer, Austen, a longtime member of the Chawton Book Society, stressed, “if she wanted to be a writer, she had to be a reader.” It’s common enough advice for writers, but it’s worth reiterating in an era when reading material is becoming increasingly truncated. Smith (Creative Writing/Univ. of Southampton; Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, 2012, etc.), who had the “immense good fortune to be the writer-in-residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum,” knows the value of this directive firsthand. After reading and rereading Austen’s works, she led writing workshops based on what she learned. She structures this guide, which grew out of that effort, around the essential components of good storytelling: plot, character, sense of place, point of view, dialogue, and a number of devices—suspense, irony, and pacing, for example—writers can employ. Much of this material is standard fare for a book on writing, but Smith’s research, literary perspicacity, and the use of excerpts make the book a unique tutorial and delicious read. She uses passages to demonstrate elements of writing, such as the “sparkling” dialogue in the conversation when Lady Catherine demands that Elizabeth promise she will never marry Mr. Darcy. A scene from Emma, when the protagonist tries “to engineer an opportunity for Mr. Elton to declare his love for Harriet Smith,” is a prime example of a subjective point of view. Those struggling with the writing life will find a sympathetic voice reaching out from more than two centuries ago. Among the gems is this basic advice written in inimitable Austen style: “It may be your head is full of joints of mutton (ugh!) and doses of rhubarb, but if you do have time to sit down and work, you can often still get things done.”

A worthy companion for writers and readers that entertains and enlightens.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63286-588-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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