Stellar cultural writing—Bissell has the knowledge and wit to earn his provocations.

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MAGIC HOURS

ESSAYS ON CREATORS AND CREATION

A whip-smart, occasionally pugnacious collection of essays on culture from a wide-ranging critic.

In recent years, Bissell (Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, 2010, etc.) has built a reputation as an expert on video games, culminating with the scattershot Extra Lives. Here, he covers a wider swath but provides more coherence, in part because a more consistent theme emerges: the necessity of calling shenanigans on the artificiality of much of mass culture and the difficult search for glimmers of integrity. In “Escanaba’s Magic Hour,” Bissell follows the filming of an indie movie in his hardscrabble Upper Peninsula hometown and cannily reveals subtle parrying between the townsfolk and the visiting filmmakers. In “Writing about Writing about Writing,” he demolishes the rhetoric of how-to writing guides, slapping the genre for its disingenuously upbeat declarations. In “Cinema Crudité,” he investigates the anti-genius of Tommy Wiseau, director of the contemporary camp classic, The Room. Bissell can tear into his subjects with a ferocity and brutal wit that recalls Dwight Macdonald, as when he writes about the would-be literary provocateurs of the Underground Literary Alliance or celebrated historian Robert Kaplan, whom he damns as an “incompetent thinker and a miserable writer.” Bissell’s more common tone, though, is that of the exasperated critic weary of conventional thinking, and he bookends the collection with pieces that drive that point home: “Unflowered Aloes” debunks the idea that literary greatness will always be discovered, and the closing interview with Jim Harrison is a lament for a dying working-class literary culture. Even the book’s weak spots are strong: A pair of New Yorker profiles on TV and video game professionals feel relatively voiceless—a problem with the magazine’s house style that, ironically enough, Bissell calls out in an earlier essay.

Stellar cultural writing—Bissell has the knowledge and wit to earn his provocations.

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-936365-76-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Believer Books/McSweeney's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

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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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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