A curiously backward-moving but fun book chronicling the buildup to the Beijing Olympics.
A columnist at the time for the New York Observer, Slate blogger Scocca and his Chinese American wife moved to Beijing in 2004 (she worked in nonprofit, he commuted back and forth from New York). For the next four years, by the magic date of 8/8/08, they witnessed the extraordinary transformation of the city into a marvel for the world. A once closed-off, cluttered capital city plagued by the rambling hutongs (the old city’s lanes and alleys…right-angled jogs and branchings, blind turns and dead ends, parallel lines suddenly swinging perpendicularly away from each other”), traffic jams and smog, Beijing was gradually rearranged, gutted and renovated by enormous, all-devouring construction projects. The single-character chai (“tear down”) was painted everywhere. The Stalinist architecture and goofy traditionalist designs were scuttled in favor of the innovative and sculptural: “hatboxes, flashlights, sardine cans standing on end, a giant topiary garden in steel and glass.” China would spend $40 billion to prepare for the Games, aiming for a top gold-medal count (only 20 years before, China had won its first gold medal in Los Angeles), hiding its hordes of rustic migrant workers and selecting the Olympic motto “One world, one dream” (Scocca’s alternate translation: “Same world, same dream”). Life in Beijing for the foreigners was not always easy or comfortable (such as the manifestation of the security state via Internet censorship), but endlessly fascinating and unintentionally hilarious: the lively, ever-changing taxi fleet, the everyday objects that fell apart effortlessly, the contradictions in the Chinese character, the government’s efforts to improve their citizens’ manners by prohibiting public spitting and rehearsing orderly lining-up prescribed “line-up day.” The last part of Scocca’s amusing account marks the suspenseful countdown to the big day, a triumph for China, followed by an extensive assessment that China had indeed “joined the world.”
A witty, light-handed chronicle, though after three years, the Beijing Olympics has already lost its luster.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
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)