A sobering, lucid memoir about the uncanny, precarious nature of family, masculinity and childhood.

THE GHOST OF MY FATHER

In Berkun’s (The Year Without Pants, 2013, etc.) new memoir, a broken family in the New York metropolitan area struggles to overcome their limitations.

If there’s a keyword that unlocks Berkun’s portrait of his socially impaired clan, it’s memory. Admittedly, this isn’t an unusual observation for a memoir. Nonetheless, Berkun’s childhood recollection of his mother cleaning out her husband Howard’s car, only to discover “tickets to a movie she’d never seen,” is an affecting image of abandonment and lost innocence. “No one recalls what the movie was,” Berkun writes, “but it’s strangely important to me now.” Throughout this memoir, the 42-year-old author tells of how he’s still haunted by his childhood’s lack of stability or certainty, particularly regarding his parents’ on-again, off-again relationship. Starting at an early age, he says, he was overwhelmed by his father’s imperfections, such as his tendency “to deal privately with his wounds, to put himself first, and to deny and repress the expression of love” toward his wife and children, including the author’s older siblings. Berkun tells of how his father became involved in a second affair at the age of 70, three decades after his initial infidelity, and of how his own sad memories of youth rose again, “like the ghosts of sad creatures that died long ago, haunting me because they want to find peace but can’t.” The author’s prose style is compelling, due in part to his interest in classical mythology and modern popular culture. After explaining that his anger toward his father came from the fact that Howard never made “an attempt to explain himself,” Berkun reminisces about his first exposure to the movie Star Wars (1977) and explores the shared history of the “misunderstood monster” between Darth Vader, Dr. Frankenstein, Greek mythology and Aesop’s fables. As the story of a father who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s, Berkun’s memoir is ideally suited to an audience that’s similarly concerned with the challenges of adulthood and parenthood in the 21st century.

A sobering, lucid memoir about the uncanny, precarious nature of family, masculinity and childhood.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0983873129

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Berkun Media, LLC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2014

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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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