A host of detailed, thoughtful, often rancorous reviews haunted by a love/hate relationship with American letters and...

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AMERICAN AUDACITY

IN DEFENSE OF LITERARY DARING

A midcareer retrospective of essay-length literary reviews.

Giraldi (The Hero’s Body, 2017, etc.) identifies the thrust of his critical work to date, of which this volume offers an extensive sample, as preoccupied with articulating the boldness and originality he finds peculiar to the American literary tradition, his own contributions included. Like many emerging writers with literary aspirations, the author seems compelled to join the fray over the Great American Novel and to scrutinize his writerly inheritance from the pedigreed lineage of the white, male, quasi-religious American canon. An unapologetic literary snob who lionizes critics as cultural arbiters, Giraldi enlists in a crusade against bad writing and celebrates the role of criticism as policing the borders of literary legitimacy. He sallies forth against the “commercial fiction” of bestsellers like Tom Clancy’s “lobotomized” “poli-sci porn” and the “eighth-grade gurglings” of Fifty Shades of Grey. The secret to such blockbuster success, Giraldi reckons, is to “never ask your reader to delve with you into the wombs of language, to rappel into the inky caves of connotation.” The author alternates reviews of giants like Melville and Poe with the handful of lesser-known 20th-century novelists—Barry Hannah, Allan Gurganus, Padgett Powell—he most esteems. Though the dense verbiage of his book reviews often recalls an academic’s tone, and he is fiction editor for a campus literary journal (AGNI at Boston University), Giraldi writes for an educated generalist audience and claims to detest academia. He rails in particular against the “unreadable prose” of academics written for other academics, counting himself lucky to have escaped the drudgery of the “tweeds” whose writing on writing he declares “incapable of giving pleasure.” Still, he assumes the academic mantle of metareviewer, critiquing critics like Stanley Fish, Lionel Trilling, Northrop Frye, and Harold Bloom with grad-student gusto.

A host of detailed, thoughtful, often rancorous reviews haunted by a love/hate relationship with American letters and replete with choice tidbits from the author's commonplace book but offering few original or illuminating insights.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-390-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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