Great for fans of Paul Theroux’s railroad journeys, except that Zoellner isn’t anywhere near as ill-tempered, and he has a...

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TRAIN

RIDING THE RAILS THAT CREATED THE MODERN WORLD—FROM THE TRANS-SIBERIAN TO THE SOUTHWEST CHIEF

A rousing around-the-world paean to the rumble of the rails by accomplished journalist Zoellner (A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, 2011, etc.).

The author, who commutes by train to his teaching job in Los Angeles, notes their utility in moving people and freight. Also, Zoellner finds trains good places to fall in love, if fleetingly, and to get reading and thinking done. Some of the things he thinks about are—well, things that it hasn’t occurred to other writers to ask about, such as the decidedly detrimental effects human excrement has on the rail lines of India: First, it eats away at the metal, and then it attracts insects that eat rail ties, telephone and signal poles, and even railroad cars themselves. (The Hindi word for “this universal human output” is goo.) Mostly, Zoellner concentrates on less icky topics, and often to memorable effect, as when he writes of a foggy journey through northern England, “a J.R.R. Tolkien vision come to life” and an “eldritch scene” to boot. England may be a land of plains and valleys “with an occasional volcanic knob on which the ruins of a fortress might be standing and one where the occupants had almost certainly sucked all the wealth from the surrounding fields and converted it into magnificent furniture and swords,” but America, with its continentally vast distances, has much catching up to do—for one thing, trains travel much slower here than they do elsewhere in the world. Having train-hopped across continents, Zoellner closes his account with a cleareyed look at what needs to happen in America if trains are to have a future—it will involve considerable infusions of money and overcoming vested-interest opposition.

Great for fans of Paul Theroux’s railroad journeys, except that Zoellner isn’t anywhere near as ill-tempered, and he has a better command of social history. A pleasure for literate travelers.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-670-02528-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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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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