THE PRICE OF THE TICKET

COLLECTED NONFICTION 1948-1985

Perhaps only a young black writer as prickly as the early Baldwin himself should review this, though at first it seems unreviewable by a black of any age, since Baldwin begins by rejecting blackness or negritude itself as a self-defeating, even strangling self-categorization. His strategy from the start has been to paint himself ever more tightly into a comer defined by everything he rejects (at one time or another, just about everything). With the sole exception of his 1985 book on the Atlanta child murders, this volume brings together every piece of nonfiction, short and long, that Baldwin wishes to save. It is a stunning achievement, violently personal, gifted, distilled from a lifelong mediation on race, sometimes less intelligent than given to big generalizations and intellectual grandiosity, yet ever a whiplash on the national conscience, if steadily remote in its fury. Baldwin opens with a new essay, "The Price of the Ticket," describing his early days as a reviewer-essayist for highbrow leftist periodicals, then summarizes his feelings about the total racism of current American institutions: "Leaving aside my friends, the people I love, who cannot, usefully, be described as either black or white, they are, like life itself, thank God, many many colors, I do not feel, alas, that my country has any reason for self-congratulation"—a sentence, alas, that is a Baldwinian jumble. His early essays often find him straining for destructive criticism: it is Baldwin, after all, who sees the black in white America and the white in black America so clearly blended that he can tell us there is no white America. One of his best reviews is of Ross Lockridge's celebration of America in the mythic Raintree County. "The book, which had no core to begin with, becomes as amorphous as cotton candy under the drumming flows of words. . .words. . .Mr. Lockridge uses. . .as a kind of shimmering web, hiding everything with an insistent radiance and proving that, after all, everything is, or is going to be, all right. . Raintree County, according to its author, cannot be found on any map: and it is always summer there. He might also have added that no one lives there anymore." Here also are Baldwin's searing introduction of white America to Malcolm X and Harlem's black Muslims (The Fire Next Time) in which he finds black racism as misguided as the white devils it attacks; his shadowboxing with Norman Mailer; his attack on the protest novel, from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Native Son (which angered his friend Richard Wright) and marvelous deflation of, among others, Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess and The Birth of a Nation for misrepresenting the black experience. Most moving of all is his autobiographical tour of his blackness No Name on the Street: "To be an Afro-American, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have never found themselves part of a civilization they could in no wise honorably defend—which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn—and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the kingdom new. . .

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1985

ISBN: 0312643063

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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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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