These 1950s Cornell lectures address a subject on which you would expect Nabokov to be nonpareil. And indeed things start off in brisk, trumpeting fashion, with a 1958 overview entitled "Russian Writers, Censors, and Reading": "If we exclude one medieval masterpiece"—it's very much like Nabokov not to tell us which it is—"the beautifully commodious thing about Russian prose is that it is all contained in the amphora of one round century." Then, hard on that, comes the book's north star, an essay on Gogol: "Fancy is fertile only when it is futile"; the "remarkable creative faculty of Russians . . . of working in a void." Yet as spectacular and epiphanous (and basic to Nabokov's belief in what literature should be) as this essay is, it is nothing new; it is an excerpt from Nabokov's great book on Gogol, which is still in print. The original material here consists, rather, of lesser lectures on other Russian masters. True, as in last year's Lectures on Literature (English and American masterworks), these textual guidings take us chapter-by-chapter through the book in question, with excerpts. But while those excerpts are unusually, unnecessarily copious—far bulkier than usual in critical writing—Nabokov's own interpretations and examinations often seem skimpy or capricious. He's tepid on Turgenev, lightly dismissive: "When Turgenev sits down to discuss a landscape, you notice that he is concerned with the trouser-crease of his phrase; he crosses his legs with an eye upon the color of his socks." And even more perfunctory are the quick back-of-the-hand smacks he gives to Dostoevsky (whom Nabokov sees as an overwrought playwright at best, no novelist) and the equally despised Gorky. Fuller, yet never quite full, are the discussions of the two Russians, apart from Gogol, whom Nabokov does approve of: Tolstoy and Chekhov. On Anna Karenina, he is as energetically specific as he was on Dickens' Bleak House in Lectures on Literature; he loves Chekhov for the "odd little details which at the same time are perfectly true to life." But, unlike last year's collection, this one never develops a consistent, coherent sense of fictional values: Nabokov begins by crowning Gogol for his supra-realism, for the plasticity and surprise of his prose—and then he completely switches his criteria to praise the humanitarian, minute qualities of Tolstoy and Chekhov . . . while damning their supra-realistic, surprising contemporaries. Furthermore, he never even acknowledges this contradiction; and so one merely finds him in alternating, extreme states here—in a mandarin pet over the writers he so unprofoundly dismisses, milkily docile and restrained about those post-Gogol writers he admires. Why this iffiness from a great critic hardly known for waffling? It could be, perhaps, that Nabokov felt himself in competition with these writers of his mother tongue. And this book may well be more revealing about VN himself than about his literary forebears. In any case, it's a disappointing follow-up to the previous, dazzling Lectures—with only one great essay (available elsewhere) and much of the space taken up by over-extensive excerpts.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1981

ISBN: 0156027763

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1981

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



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 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?