THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 1994

Volume nine strains a bit to achieve its predecessors' diversity by stretching the definition of ``essay.'' Take, for example, the two longest contributions. In ``Trucking Through the AIDS Belt'' Ted Conover spends time on the road with Central African truckers (``true museums of disease,'' a doctor calls them), while in ``The Last Shot'' Darcy Frey hangs out with black high school basketball players, examining the ``cherished parable'' that college scholarships provide a way out of the ghetto. (Frey has expanded this piece into a book. See p. 1185.) Frey's piece is excellent; Conover's, though more diffuse, is still pretty good. Yet it's questionable whether these in-depth reporting pieces can really be considered ``narrative essays'' (Kidder's term). Other entries collected by series editor Atwan and Pulitzer Prize-winning guest editor Kidder (Old Friends, 1993, etc.) hew more closely to the form. There is cultural commentary: Adam Gopnik on the ``High Morbid Manner'' in contemporary art, Cynthia Ozick finding echoes of Henry James in Salman Rushdie's appearance at a Paris seminar, David Denby celebrating a Dead White Male (Homer) on his return to Columbia nearly 30 years after graduation. There are reflections on our relationship to our habitat (William Langewiesche's marvelously lucid account of aviation's coming of age) and the animals we share it with (Vicki Hearne, in the collection's most delightfully offbeat entry, finding ``deep knowledge about animals...in a trained-orangutan act on a Las Vegas stage''). Disappointingly, the collection has only one essay on our political and social relations: James McPherson's vapid consideration of Martin Luther King's ideas about community. Lastly, there are lively autobiographical sketches. Treating a sadistic male patient, Lauren Slater finds surprising links to her anorexic past, while Lucy Grealy, assessing years of reconstructive surgery, ponders the link between the face and the self. Outshining them all is the series' ever-bright star, Stanley Elkin. In incandescent prose, he writes about the worst days of his life (``the season of my madness''); the result is both harrowing and wildly funny. A solid addition to an annual series that has won many plaudits.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-69254-7

Page Count: 321

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more