LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY

REFLECTIONS ON MARK TWAIN AND AMERICAN CULTURE

A grab bag collection of musings and meanderings on Mark Twain and his continuing cultural influences. But Fishkin (American Studies/Univ. of Texas, Austin) seems too often more preoccupied with herself than with her subject. By the end of the book, we know about her likes and dislikes, her career, travels (to Twain's native Hannibal, Mo., and elsewhere in search of Twain and his legacy), family, and, by the way, some of her interesting ideas on Twain. These non-Fishkin-focused sections are largely taken up with an original and vigorous defense of Twain against charges of racism. That such a defense is even necessary is a sad commentary on our age's unironic obtuseness (Huckleberry Finn has been banned in many school districts): If a book contains the word ``nigger,'' well then it must be a wicked book and the author a wicked man. Fishkin ably lays waste to these canards, turning up in the process irrefutable evidence of Twain's strong hatred of racism. Critics have often assailed Huckleberry Finn's long final section, in which Jim, not aware that he has been freed, is humiliated by Tom Sawyer, but Fishkin convincingly reads this as a satire of Reconstruction. Still, Fishkin's overwhelming emphasis on Twain as an ``antiracist writer'' is ultimately part of the same flawed zeitgeist that wrongly condemns him for racism. One of the 19th century's most original minds, Twain had a talent and breadth of his concerns that ranged far beyond such easy delineations. Fishkin gives some sense of this, but she is too concerned with boxing Twain into the narrow categories our age seems to demand. Despite Fishkin's scholarship and intelligence, Twain's own words on his work are perhaps the best: ``Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.'' (24 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-19-510531-1

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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