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About ethan

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  • Reading now?
    Arthur Miller: 1915-1962 - Christopher Bigsby
  • Location:
    NJ USA
  1. Your Top 10 books!

    I have so many favorites, I'd have a difficult time narrowing it down to a hundred. Here's some, English language only, in no particular order.... Portrait of a Lady - Henry James The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson Endless Love - Scott Spencer Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles Fortunes of War - Olivia Manning Pierre; or, The Ambiguities - Herman Melville The Little Friend - Donna Tartt The Girls of Slender Means - Muriel Spark .
  2. Ethan reads 2015

    Eugene O'Neill: A Life in Four Acts - Robert M. Dowling I'm always hesitant to read biographies of artists whose work I admire as often they were not very good human beings - O'Neill a vicious drunk, an abusive husband, a terrible father. Yet his demons led to enduring art. Dowling practically rubs our noses in the legendary binges, but he is strong on production histories which most interest me. I hadn't realized what a sensation O'Neill was (world-wide) while he was very young. He won the Nobel Prize and then wrote The Iceman Cometh, A Moon For the Misbegotten, A Touch of the Poet and Long Day's Journey Into Night. He could have won a second Nobel! O'Neill was frustrated that he couldn't write good prose, he would rather have been a novelist, and considered much of his work (which could run to 3-5 hours) an experiment in combining the two forms. He said that his plays are better read than performed. I snatched the O'Neill Library of America edition with all the plays from the library to put that to the test. The Comedy of Errors - William Shakespeare I hope to see this at a summer festival in the Berkshires, one of the twelve plays of Shakespeare I've yet to see performed. It has some challenging staging what with two sets of identical twins. I'm anxious to see what the director comes up with, she staged an amazing college production locally of The Skin of Our Teeth. saw a couple of plays...... All In the Timing - David Ives Ives' earlier Lives of the Saints is the laugh-out-loud funniest time I've ever had at the theatre. This five segmented collection isn't far behind. The last piece is truly inspired - Leon Trotsky with a mountain climbers pick axe stuck in his skull, (he had dreams that an ice pick would be his undoing and had them banned from his house) caught in some kind of limbo, coming to terms with his death, while his ghostly wife reads him the wikipedia account of his assassination. "But, still, some hope, I lived on for one more day!" King Hedley II - August Wilson This is the second of Wilson's ten-play cycle of black American life throughout the 20th century I've seen. So far, at least, I find him a bit heavy-handed and humorless. The dominant mode is a 60-ish anger, still sadly relevant given recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson. He does write some powerful dramatic moments that actors can sink their teeth into, Hedley's soaring monologue before intermission was electrifying. The production had the dubious distinction of the most cell-phone rings and text messaging/internet scanning during a performance in my experience. People silence their phones but then think it's ok to turn them on for other purposes. One man at the end of my aisle lit up every few minutes. The addiction has become an epidemic. There was a hot ticket show in NYC, Hamilton, that all the celebrities just had to see, in which Madonna, sitting up front in a small theater, reportedly texted throughout. The lead actor/writer of the piece (soon to transfer to Broadway) tweeted that it was the first time he refused entry to a celebrity post-performance for congratulations. .
  3. Frankie reads 2015

    It's always been three weeks where I live too (NJ-US), but one can renew for another three weeks if there are no holds against the book. And you can do renewals on-line, the library e-mails when the due date is approaching. I also found an on-line state-wide search site (colleges and county library systems) in which you can get just about any book you might desire, shipped to your local library, if willing to wait about 10 days. .
  4. Ethan reads 2015

    and a whole, whole lot of plays...... Penelope - Enda Walsh The Philadelphia theatre world is in some kind of amazing boom, new companies springing up faster than I can keep track of, all with an ambitious or classical bent. InisNua devotes itself to overlooked (in the US at least) contemporary Irish, English and Scottish plays. Walsh, who did the screenplay to Hunger, re-tells the suitor story in The Odyssey. Only four of the suitors are left, encamped in an empty swimming pool, Penelope (from above) watching their pleas recorded by a video camera. Walsh has been compared to Beckett. I didn't detect much of that even with an absurdist setting and some effectively comic wordplay. A real sense of doom (Odysseus is due back soon) but also a lot of male self-pity. The Shadow of a Gunman - Sean O'Casey The Irish Heritage Theater is doing the entire trilogy, finishing in the fall and next spring. Performed in a small black box, on a weeknight, only 10 in the audience, 13 in the cast. That creates an unusual vibe, but the enthusiasm of the actors and their obvious love of the work compensates. It's a short, terrifying and quite beautiful play. I'm looking forward to Juno and the Paycock next. Ragtime - Terrence McNally(book) Flaherty/Ahrens(songs) I'm trying to learn to appreciate musicals. I seem to be tone deaf to anything other than Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loew, a couple of others from that period. I love the Doctorow novel and they crammed just about the whole of its plot into three hours. Coalhouse and Sarah were beautifully performed but I wearied of how desperate the makers were to keep us entertained, always straining to impress, never a quiet moment. A full Broadway type version, enormous cast, the audience ate it up, and I can't say I regretted attending. And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie A creaky, old chestnut with some groan inducing lines. To cover the lapses, the cast played it in an exaggerated 1930s Noel Cowardish manner. And the situation itself is compelling, characters killed off one by one by an unseen killer. The mystery is, as usual, better than the solution, but luckily the killer was played by one of the best actors in the area, and he pulled off the surprise climax effectively, Uncanny Valley - Thomas Gibbons The first act was an interesting depiction of artificial intelligence (in the near future) being fine-tuned to approximate human emotion. In the second act the playwright either got bored with the idea, or worried the audience would, so he succumbed to "sociology" and relevance with a long static conversation on the problem of parents' estrangement from their children. She Stoops To Conquer - Oliver Goldsmith A farce from the 1700s performed in a row house in the historic Society Hill district dating from that era. Now a museum, originally owned by the mayor of Philadelphia, a ballroom where George and Martha Washington celebrated a wedding anniversary used for the stage. I don't know what to call this type of theater with natural light, limited props, the audience feeling as if they are part of the play - guerrilla theater, termite art? Whatever it is, I'm becoming addicted to it, more so than to the large conventional venues with lots of everything, except maybe soul. This company had plenty of that, so some spotty performances (there were good ones too) seemed beside the point. The Fair Maid of the West - Thomas Heywood I thought this play was Restoration era but it is considered to date back to the 1590s, Shakespeare's time, and there is a bit of the Pericles genre, but with some very broad comedy, a play for clowns to strut their stuff. The cast came out in costume as the audience was seated, mingling with it, everyone seemed to know each other (except for me). Then they gathered to sing a rollicking sea chanty and the fun never flagged thereafter. I see from the production history that the RSC revived it some years ago. It's deserving. The Hairy Ape - Eugene O'Neill This company performed a magnificent, very expressionistic Stairs To the Roof earlier in the season and The Ape lends itself to that treatment, coming from O'Neill's early non-naturalistic period. But I thought at times they went a bit overboard, especially with a cage motif, the Park Avenue ingenue seen throughout the second act in a trance behind bars at the back of the set. A charismatic, energetic performance by Matteo Scammel as Yank holds it all together, channeling the dance like movements of Jimmy Cagney while echoing the bluster of Edward G. Robinson and Popeye, all his own in the haunting finale "Where do I fit in?" In Washington, I saw a good production of Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov that meshed the sentiment, comedy and (near) tragedy well, with a marvelous Sophia. Carousel (also in DC) has some of Richard Rodgers most gorgeous music, turns very dark in the second half, leading to the rousing You'll Never Walk Alone finale. The actor who had been playing Billy Bigelow left the production for a Broadway show and this was his replacement's (fresh from a year long tour as the Phantom of the Opera) opening night. I would have never guessed, he was very impressive, especially in Billy's famous nine minute musical soliloquy. Carousel was Rodger's favorite (Steven Sondheim's too) of his work, and I can see it becoming mine as well, I still have a few more Rodgers and Hammerstein's to go. In tick, tick.... BOOM David Auburn expanded a musical monologue that Jonathan Larsen (Rent) performed while he was struggling to succeed, adding two characters while keeping all the songs. I thoroughly disliked Rent, but this more intimate piece worked better for me, some of the pop-rock songs were pretty good even with an abundance of woe-is-me. To the Moon (Jennifer Childs) is a brand new play about a Jackie Gleason wannabe, who lives a Ralph Kramden-like life, a struggling actor with a long suffering wife and a goofy best friend/neighbor. I don't know if Gleason is known outside the US, but like most of my generation, and some after, I grew up on the "golden 39" episodes of The Honeymooners. Moon is the best contemporary comedy I've seen in years, hopefully other regional theaters pick it up if they can find the right actor to portray Gleason. Scott Greer, a gifted comic actor, picked up all the nuances without resorting to impersonation, he even looks like Gleason. I went to my first college show in a long time, the University of the Arts extravagant production of The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder. I had never seen this before and was unprepared for the craziness, including Wooly mammoths and dinosaurs. It's a long, long way from Our Town (on second thought, maybe not that far). Two great roles - Sabina (Tallulah Bankhead in the original cast) and the son Henry (Montgomery Clift, years before his movie career), and these enthusiastic college actors were up to the task. Great fun. I don't deny that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf can be powerful and emotionally draining, but each time I see it the stuff about the baby seems more and more an awkwardly sentimental device. The guests can be problematic as well - who would stay more than ten minutes, no less an entire night, with such a gruesome, sadistic couple. Are George and Martha monsters? Albee insists otherwise with moments of tenderness amid the carnage. Certainly the most comically bitchy dialogue ever written (the first half is truly extraordinary), and I have to admit I left the battlefield once again emotionally drained. For the first time I went to a reading of a new play, by a local playwright, a comedy called The Last Monogomous Man in America. I found it generic and sitcom-ish but with some good jokes. What was interesting was the talk-back which extended to 45 minutes, the audience encouraged to give criticism, some fellow playwrights who were present had perceptive comments, and I gained insight into the process of how new plays are developed. The production of A Midsummer Nights Dream I saw adopted an Indian/Jodhpur design which I found more strange than magical. It's difficult to mess up Dream though, and Helena and Bottom and the boys were as hilarious as ever. The Three Musketeers was performed on a large stage in-the-round, with some of the most expert sword fights I've seen, spilling over into the aisles. Dumas came out to give a prologue and stuck around to provide acerbic narration. Thirteen actors, some doubling so seamlessly that I couldn't match them up until I studied the playbill back home. .
  5. Ethan reads 2015

    My winter reading binge has morphed into a springtime theatre-going binge but I did mange to complete a few......... Can You Forgive Her? - Anthony Trollope Trollope had a weakness for proposal scenes and this novel (the first Palliser) teems with them, as he doubles and even triples the main plot. All of which leads to one of his strengths: his characters constant introspection, struggling to find out who they really are, what they really want out of life, have they made the correct decisions? Plantagenet Palliser, distant and cold, discovering that he has the capacity to love is one of Trollope's great moments. Also, he is good at celebrating friendship, its joys and obligations. Changing Places - David Lodge The first of his Campus Trilogy, it's both sex comedy and academic satire, and at times very funny, if at other times dated (1960s). Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus A good choice to start my reading of Greek Tragedies, this one was powerful and understandable in the Oxford Scully/Herrington translation. The Confessions - Saint Augustine I wearied a bit with the endless exaltations to the Almighty, but I did enjoy the autobiography and ruminating, especially Book Ten on Memory. .
  6. Ethan reads 2015

    Zuleika Dobson - Max Beerbohm This was so odd I almost put it down for good at the halfway point. Then, suddenly, shades and Greek gods mingled in, and I was hooked. I read a few 100 year anniversary re-evaluations from 2011 and found the satiric denunciation of the Oscar Wilde cult of aesthetics a convincing interpretation. Also the anticipation of celebrity culture. Very eerie in the mass suicide plot, a foreshadowing (if not deliberate) of the generational slaughter to come in three short years. Dark Back of Time - Javier Marias The first of his books to disappoint me, more meandering (and ponderous) than digressive. The range of action is, as always, limited, but in this novel (if that's what it is) the addictive language didn't compensate. and a play, and not just any play......... Hamlet This production had a foggy, monochromatic design with a black actress, Zainab Jar (by way of Sierra Leone/London), playing Hamlet. She had an androgynous look and quickly assumed the role so it never seemed the least bit unusual. What was unusual was her short stature amidst a very tall cast, a Hamlet in a world of giants. Ophelia from the start was depicted in a kind of balletic swoon. I didn't think it worked while watching but the images are sticking in my imagination. A plus was the best Player King I've seen, he even had me in tears in his Hecuba speech. They did botch the always difficult finale, it's never clear that Hamlet has been struck, and the King watches without flinching as Gertrude drinks the cup of poison. The same cast returns next month to perform Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. .
  7. Ethan reads 2015

    and some plays......... Macbeth - Shakespeare My favorite part has always been the witches, and this production did them proud with an imaginative sound and visual design. Some of the supporting cast seemed to be reciting lines rather than inhabiting characters, but fortunately the actor who played Macbeth was good, especially in the "sound and fury.......signifying nothing" speech. Lady Macbeth was on the quiet side and without a powerful Lady the play can't reach it's full potential. A Streetcar Named Desire - Tennessee Williams Marlon Brando's charisma overwhelmed the original production but this is clearly Blanche's play, and the actress who played her in this production was so affecting, especially while recounting her tragic early marriage. When Mitch tells her that Stanley doesn't really hate her, Blanche responds that from the first time she saw Stanley she knew that he "would be the death of me, he would destroy me", so electrifying. Stanley's famous "Stella! Stella!" has through time passed from parody back to it's chilling plaintive cry. The epicenter is the scene where Mitch, half drunk after learning of Blanche's checkered past, comes to extract his pound of flesh. Blanche still harbors the delusion of marriage, which Mitch immediately dismisses, she isn't "clean enough" to enter his mother's house. The audience desires a savior for Blanche, but none is found, until the doctor arrives, the "kindness of strangers". It's a great play, resonating more for me after recently reading John Lahr's biography. Pieces of Williams' life and personality are to be found everywhere. The Cherry Orchard - Anton Chekhov Chekhov thought he wrote a comedy and couldn't understand why original director Stanislavski turned it into a tragedy. This production was big on the comedy early but then overly stressed nostalgia and sentimentality and never quite reached a tragic dimension. The cast included two name actors from tv/movies (unusual for regional theaters in the US), David Strathairn and Mary McDonnell. Both gave understated film type performances at odds with an otherwise exuberant stagey atmosphere. I've found Chekhov in performance to be pretty tricky. I saw a great Uncle Vanya once but everything else has disappointed to various degrees. The Taming of the Shrew - Shakespeare Before the stage manager could complete her "turn off cell phones, please subscribe" appeal, an obviously inebriated man stumbled into the auditorium searching for a seat, ending up on stage, while the manager frantically called for security on her walkie-talkie. Most in the audience bought into the calamity, an uncomfortable vibe, until we realized that this was the beginning of the seldom performed "induction" scene and the play had begun, and the play-within-the-play would be Shrew. During the intermission I complimented the house manager on the unconventional approach, and he told me that on opening night the volunteer ushers (not informed of the ruse) had physically restrained the actor from reaching the stage. The drunk (Christopher Sly) turned into Petruchio, a diminutive fellow, with fedora and slick Frank Sinatra type moves. Kate turned out to be his Ava Gardner, dark and imposing. Their fisticuffs ended up in a draw, as well as their "chat". Petruchio grows weary of acting the shrew while Kate never loses her dignity during her abuse, despite finally (if unconvincingly) giving in to his domination. The director used some theatrical magic with sun and moon effects to distract, but it was the actors sexual chemistry that pulled the audience along. As well as milking most of the comic potentialities in the script, a very funny version. At the end, after the final kiss, Petruchio and Kate exit while the remaining actors performed an awkwardly sweet dance, lights go down, audience began to applaud. Lights back on, Petruchio again as Christopher Sly, lying drunk on stage, police officer arrives and cuffs him, exchanging familiar banter while dragging off to jail, The officer of course is the actress who portrayed Kate. This isn't in Shakespeare, but some of the men in the audience seemed to recognize a more convincing depiction of the (current) battle of the sexes.
  8. Ethan reads 2015

    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Bronte I enjoyed the middle section, Helen's diary, covering her relationship with her dissipated, abusive husband. That she is strong enough to leave him and try to make a life on her own, a single mother, must have shocked Victorians, but makes her seem more modern and realistic than her sisters heroines. Jealousy - Alain Robbe-Grillet The "New Novel" style was a test for me, but I admired Robbe-Grillet's attempt to discover alternate avenues for the novel, and he is mercifully brief. The Man Who Fell To Earth - Walter Tevis It felt a bit dated in its 1960's ban the bomb, imminent self-destruction obsessions, but I enjoyed the sub-texts, metaphors, the descent into alcoholism in the estrangement from home, gazing into the night sky and measuring the distance. The Robber Bridegroom - Eudora Welty I was surprised having expected a mix of Faulkner and Woolf but instead I encountered a rollicking fairy tale that reminded more of Mark Twain and the Grimm Brothers. From reading around the net it doesn't appear to be typical of her work in general. Balthazar - Lawrence Durrell I found Justine (volume one of The Alexandria Quartet) humorless and rather lifeless, so Durrell, on cue, provided some laugh out loud scenes early in Baltazar, and two unexpected revelations of secrets to liven things up. The re-playing and expansion of the same story from different perspectives is becoming increasingly interesting. White Noise - Don Delillo I've been reading a series of campus novels, a genre that suits Delillo as he can indulge in a multitude of eccentrically obsessive riffs, which is how professors usually speak in these novels. But everybody speaks like this here, even the kids, and it soon grew monotonous. Apocalyptic visions can date quickly and White Noise seems to me an artifact of its time. Maigret and the Loner - Georges Simenon My first Maigret mystery and probably my last. A dry, only-the-facts approach left me disappointed in the genre expectation aspect. I didn't detect any psychological dimension for which he's praised. The Real Night - Rebecca West Second volume of her autobiographical trilogy, for some reason she refused to publish the last two during her lifetime. It's every bit as good as the first volume, The Fountain Overflows, impressively evocative of the years leading up to the Great War. Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity - Prue Shaw Excellent intro for the general reader, strong on the historical context which I needed prior to starting The Divine Comedy. I've been drawn lately to classic literature, more as dedicated student. I've almost completed the Comedy and I've happily become an enthusiast. The Traveller's Tree - Patrick Leigh Fermor * A journey through many Caribbean islands late 1940s. Strong on history, landscape, infectious curiosity. Fermor's descriptive talents are in full force in his first book. Shakespeare's Restless World - Neil MacGregor A well illustrated, popular history, useful in reminding that Shakespeare wasn't (deliberately) writing for posterity, but rather for his restless audience (and for money!), addressing and dramatizing their very specific anxieties. Roberto Bolano's Fiction: An Expanding Universe - Chris Andrews Andrews skips about, covering many interesting topics, heavy on theory at times. I enjoyed his analysis of Bolano's narrative strategies, particularly the detective fiction aspect, the quests, perversely diffusing reader expectations in anti-climaxes. Also the depiction of evil, a scepter that pervades almost all of Bolano's fiction. How we as human beings respond (or should respond) to evil is a major preoccupation.
  9. Ethan reads 2015

    The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro Ten years down the road, one might expect either a finely tuned masterpiece or an excessively worked over disappointment. Unfortunately I lean toward the latter. I'm not fond of fantasy but the ogres, pixies, she-devils didn't bother me much, although I don't think they added much either. Also we skirted unwelcome David Mitchell territory with the breathless escapes, malevolent monks, monster slaying. The big problem is the clunky dialogue, and there is lots of it, especially between the old couple. Ishiguro has imagined unusual environments before but he always created a lingo that suited. So his theme of memory (the buried giant) as a double-edged sword couldn't effectively resonate. and a play..... Stairs To the Roof - Tennessee Williams A complete departure (written before his successes) from any other Williams play I know of. Based on a year that he spent typing orders in his father's shoe factory, it's an exuberant extravaganza, a cry to escape the stifling conformity of the salaryman's life before it's too late. Williams sub-titled it "A Prayer for the Wild at Heart Who Are Kept in Cages." This production used a child's toy theater concept which led to some impressive physical comedy. It's mostly a series of fantastical skits culminating with the appearance of God (showing gay tendencies) who resembled a spaceman from Star Trek. Judging from the raucously positive reaction from the audience (myself included), other theaters might be wise to give Stairs a go, it's been a rarity up until now. .
  10. Ethan reads 2015

    catching up... My Last Sigh - Luis Bunuel Great stories from the acclaimed Spanish movie director covering topics that include the surrealists in twenties Paris, the Spanish civil war, the abortive attempts to make it in Hollywood (a place he loved). My favorite is when he visits LA after his string of European art film hits, invited to dinner at George Cukor's house, only to find many of the great golden age directors there to fete him - Wilder, Hitchcock, Wyler, even John Ford stumbled in (two weeks before he died). Bunuel was never politically correct which adds some spice to the memoirs. The Immoralist - Andre Gide I didn't care much for this, a story of a wealthy man who sacrifices his fortune and his wife in pursuit of discovering his true self. I did admire the sustained confessional tone. Mimesis - Erich Auerbach Plato contrasted mimesis, or imitation, with diegesis, or narrative. Auerbach devotes a chapter to many of the great books in western literature, explaining how the concept of mimesis developed. It's scholarly, but Auerbach has brilliant insights and he's a clear speaker so there was plenty for me to digest. The Betrothed - Alessandro Manzoni A harrowing account of a plague year in Milan climaxing a rather tedious love story. Pope Francis has said this Italian classic from the 19th century is one of his favorites, since boyhood, and you can see why, an inspirational depiction of humility and charity in the clergy. Lost Illusions - Honore de Balzac Balzac at his most demonic, especially in the middle section, a caffeinated roller coaster ride through a machiavellian world, the rise and fall of his vain yet complex hero. Just when you think Balzac has finally jumped the rails he abruptly closes with a tragedy upon a tragedy. Satin Island - Tom McCarthy I read this in two sittings finding it mysterious and puzzling but unable to decipher any of the complex notions that the narrator bandies about. Most of it sounded like b.s. to me, for awhile I thought it was intended to be about b.s. Perhaps on a higher intellectual level that I can reach it all makes sense. At any rate there were some fine scenes, particularly the one where the narrator waits (while connecting various vectors) at the terminal in lower Manhattan watching the ferry return, to take him (or not) to Staten (Satin) Island. Augustus - John Williams Terrific storytelling, we see Augustus as others saw him, through letters and diaries. I kept trying to link with Stoner, so different is it in subject and scope. I was able to in the final section, when we hear Augustus in his own words, his final words, emphasizing the key moments in his life, the crucial decisions, accepting the consequences, playing out his role with endurance and courage. The Leopard - Guiseppe di Lampedusa I kept seeing Lancaster, Cardinale and Delon, so familar with the Visconti movie adaptation, but despite the distractions I found this a brilliant depiction of the last vestiges of feudalism on the island of Sicily in the late 1800s. The Time of Angels - Iris Murdoch More moral muddle from Murdoch. She sets up so many interesting situations and dilemmas. This is a gothic fairy tale with daddy (a curate) as the devil and the driving force of the plot is whether he can be stopped. Pnin - Vladimir Nabokov Nabokov follows an unassuming and comical Russian emigre professor as he adjusts to the world of American university life, and reflects back to the lost world of his childhood. An excellent companion piece to Speak Memory, both displaying Nabokov's proficiency in the bitter-sweet. The Groves of Academe - Mary McCarthy Another campus novel, an entertaining satire of treacherous politics at a progressive liberal arts college during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Blood-Drenched Beard - Daniel Galera A young man settles down in the Brasilian seaside town where his grandfather was mysteriously murdered years earlier. He's obsessed with discovering the truth, the villagers not so much. Billed as an existential noir, it meanders and sometimes stalls. The local color was the main attraction for me, the pop philosophy not so much. Vita Nuova - Dante Alighiera Written alternately in prose and sonnets, this is the precursor to the Divine Comedy (which I'm reading now) expressing his ethereal love for Beatrice, who later serves as Dante's guide in Paradise. A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway I hadn't read any Hemingway in decades and couldn't get comfortable with the affected style I once loved. He paints such grotesque portraits of Ford Madox Ford and F. Scott Fitzgerald you wonder how they ever managed to write enduring literature. Aspects of the Novel - E.M. Forster Engaging and humorous, I particularly enjoyed his close reading of Henry James's The Ambassadors.
  11. Ethan reads 2015

    The Novel: A Biography - Michael Schmidt I couldn't put this down after starting from the beginning, initially using it as a reference book. One reviewer described it accurately as a bildungsroman of the novel - building blocks, connections, development. Schmidt is brilliant at critically encapsulating the timeless values of great novels, drawing upon other novelists' assessments for conversations. It seemed beside the point to disagree (he takes a dim view of Muriel Spark, dislikes Thomas Pynchon) or complain of omissions (nary a mention of personal favorites Dawn Powell and Martin Boyd). It is the novel in the English language that is surveyed but there are chapters on global writers who were quickly translated and thus influential. Outline - Rachel Cusk I read an interview with Cusk in which she declares that fiction is "fake and embarrassing. Once you have suffered sufficiently, the idea of making up John and Jane and having them do things together seems utterly ridiculous." The hubris in the idea that not being able to process one's personal turmoil (divorce in her case) invalidates an art form that has persisted since whenever, a long time at least, piqued my curiosity. In Outline an unnamed narrator, teaching a writing course for a week in Athens, meets a number of people who after saying "hello, nice to meet you" go on for a dozen pages eagerly revealing the intimate details of their life. This struck me as kind of fake, but Cusk writes well, and the reviews are all predictably rapturous. My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante (Volume One of the Neapolitan Trilogy) I'm often dubious of first impressions and despite despising Ferrante's Days of Abandonment last year, something kept nagging at me to try again. I'm glad I did because I found this completely absorbing, a real page turner, one of the best accounts of adolescence I've ever read. Elena's brilliant friend, Lila, is a superb creation, unpredictable, mysterious, charismatic. and a play..... Misalliance - G.B. Shaw I saw this at a tiny black box theater (not much larger than a closet) five floors up from the Walnut Street Theater's majestic main-stage, on a day when the wind chill outdoors was minus zero. All 45 seats to my surprise filled. We viewed a stage not really suitable for Shaw's propensity to overpopulate. Nine characters and at times all were present and accounted for. Luckily the actors inhabited their characters immediately and were proficient in bringing to light the embedded witticisms in the talk, talk, talk. I think this is one of Shaw's superior entertainments and I wonder why it is so rarely performed. The Polish dare-devil, Lina Szczepanowska, who literally falls from the sky, comically disrupting the desires of all the males, is alone worth the price of admission. .
  12. Ethan reads 2015

    Don Quixote - Edith Grossman trans. I was put off (and surprised) by the level of cruelty so I wasn't completely enchanted. I laughed a lot and appreciated the richness of technique and theme. The ending was superb and like all great endings it shed new light on everything that came before, and it's kept me a-ponderin. Not really a difficult book, short chapters, just very long. The translation was superb. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain An American version of Quixote, river and plain, rapscallionry and chivalry, heavy bromance. Tom Sawyer even impersonates Quixote in recreating nonsensical escape plans learned from adventure stories for springin Jim from imprisonment. I first read this as a kid when it was still considered a boy's story, since highjacked by hifalutin critics despite Twain's warning in his preface. Often considered the GAN (Great American Novel) especially if you lop off the contrived ending. The Italian Girl - Iris Murdoch A man returns to the country home of his childhood to attend his mother's funeral and finds his family has (sexually) run amok. I'm guessing that this a minor work but I enjoyed the way Murdoch untangled the moral lassitude that corrupted her magic forest. Offshore - Penelope Fitzgerald My favorite of the five novels of hers I've read. It's autobiographical as Fitzgerald lived for a few years in a houseboat on the Thames. The documentary approach works with well-drawn fictional portraits of her children and her neer-do-well husband. Her river neighbors are, as you might expect, confirmed eccentrics and everyone, in one way or another, is hanging on for dear life, at the end quite literally. Justine - Laurence Durrell Durrell plays with time and memory ala Proust in the opening volume of The Alexandria Quartet. He unfortunately checked his sense of humor at the door for this soap opera, a dirge from beginning to end. Not sure if I'll go on with the others. Pinocchio: A Tale of a Puppet - Carlo Collodi Some bookbloggers had a group read so I followed along. I don't read fairytales often, but this was fast paced and imaginative. Collodi's first edition ended with poor Pinocchio hanging from a tree. After reader and critic complaints, he revised, rescued the puppet boy for further adventures, but it's still pretty dark. On Beauty - Zadie Smith Smith reminds me of Jonathan Franzen with the unadorned prose, the emphasis on dialogue and the super-realism. I find Franzen's fiction bloated and repetitive but Smith keeps the action moving with a wink and some terrific comedy, while paying homage to E.M. Forster and Howard's End. Not much depth but if you want a wider audience you have to make sacrifices. and two plays..... Private Lives - Noel Coward I saw this at the Walnut Street Theater (Philadelphia) the oldest (1809) theater in the US. I had never been before (too expensive pop fare) but I'm glad I did. The theater emphasizes its incredible history in old pictures and posters mounted throughout the lobbies. And this Coward play is for me at least a laugh riot. ("Don't quibble, Sybil!") The artificiality that made Coward seem obsolete in the kitchen sink era has now entered an abstract realm, brittle and bitchy and often hilarious. The second act curtain arose to Amanda's luxurious Paris apartment, so spectacular a set that the audience rightfully burst into applause. Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier starred in the original production. Nora - Ingmar Bergman This is the version of A Doll's House by Ibsen that Bergman streamlined along with Miss Julie back in the 1980s. They sometimes play together which must be a long evening as Nora runs for about 90 minutes and is emotionally exhausting in itself. Nora's "seeing the light" about her marriage strikes me as a bit implausible but contributes to a devastatingly intense final scene with husband Torvald, reminiscent of some Bergman films.
  13. Ethan reads 2015

    ^^I've not read Vera, pontalba, hopefully in future when I re-read all the works. ^Ayckbourn has been one of my favorites too, poppy, ever since I saw a tv production of The Norman Conquests, Tom Conti is so great in that. Italian Hours - Henry James Somewhat dry considerations of the relics of Greek and Roman antiquity, barely a mention of people encountered. These essays encompass decades and I found it interesting that although the early ones were straightforward, the ones written in the 1900s reflected the difficult style James employed in the late fictional masterpieces. I had to re-read many pages to make sense of the convoluted sentences, which strangely enough I often enjoyed doing. Italian Journey - J.W. Goethe When you travel with Goethe you not only get the obligatory paintings, relics and cathedrals, but also geology, botany, agriculture (no one beats Goethe in curiosity) and people, great portraits of 18th century people. After escaping Henry James' constricted reflections, reading Goethe is like opening a window, breathing in the fresh air. The Golden Child - Penelope Fitzgerald Set in a museum (closely resembling the British Museum) whose behind-the-scenes dealings resemble a battle zone, including fake artifacts and murder. This was Fitzgerald's debut and I was surprised to see a whodunnit, but I suppose intended as a parody thereof. Innocence - Penelope Fitzgerald Fitzgerald is adroit at shifting gears, here a comedy-of-manners amongst the Italian aristocracy and their fading fortunes in the post-WWII era. Her novels are so varied I suspect that even though she didn't publish until she was sixty, they must have been in stages of development. I love titles (like this one) that make you consider what the author means by it, illuminating aspects of the plot you may have overlooked in the reading. The Sandcastle - Iris Murdoch A teacher at a prestigious boys school feels oppressed by his domineering wife, two growing children who don't care much for him, and a stagnant career. He falls in love with a young, beautiful, rich girl, a successful painter, who adores him back, and wants to whisk him away to her villa on the Mediterranean. A moral dilemma that seems (to a man at least) a slam dunk, but don't count out the machiavellian wife - "so you actually think you can escape me?" The Ten Thousand Things - Maria Dermout A Dutch novel from the 1950s, the first I've ever read set in the Moluccan Islands. It gets going in the second half, murders, ghosts and an indelible sense of place. and a play............ Doubt - John Patrick Shanley It's interesting to see this after the movie version, the play much more compact and focused. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman are impossible to top, but the roles are rich and the actors I saw had their moments. The nun's abrupt turnaround played better on screen, probably due to Streep, also to the power of the cinematic close-up. I saw Shanley's latest, Outside Mulligar, a few weeks ago, didn't comment as, despite some good jokes early, I found it a drab affair, drifting off into Moon For the Misbegotten territory without O'Neills' poetic flourishes. .
  14. Ethan reads 2015

    Anna Karenina - Pevear/Volokhonsky trans. I enjoyed it but didn't feel the "greatest novel" thing as I began to dread returning to the Anna chapters, she often seemed a melodramatic device, and the summation chapters were a let-down. I then consulted Professor Nabokov in Lectures on Russian Literature for his unique and challenging perspective. The Peaver/Volokhonsky translation gets an "A" for readability. Altered States - Anita Brookner Brookner is good at describing loneliness in the big city and I became pleasingly absorbed in some of her long, languid passages. The love story at its core (another excessive, destructive one) is not very convincing but I'm not sure it matters much, the first-person male narration is superb, and the characters on the edges as well. F - Daniel Kehlmann A father and his three sons attend a performance with a hynotist, who upends their lives by convincing the Father to seek his dreams (which don't include his family). The sons have difficulties dealing with the trauma of the father's disappearance, dire consequences ensue when they become adults. "F" might stand for fate, or family, or a few other things. I missed the point of this novel, no real impact at all, although it is easy reading and occasionally entertaining. The Strange Library - Haruki Murakami A short story given a book length presentation with many pages of illustrations. The story (about a boy who is taken captive by an evil librarian) is interesting and odd, as one might expect from Murakami, but hardly worth such attention. I thought at first it was meant as a children's story but the illustrations seemed aimed at adults, and the story-line of terror in a library certainly wouldn't encourage the young to visit their local library (better to stick with the safety of e-books, the world is too dangerous). Death of the Black-Haired Girl - Robert Stone Stone (who died last week) has been one of my favorites, especially A Flag For Sunrise and Damascus Gate. The plot here revolves around an ill-fated affair between a married professor and his star student. It's a familiar starting point but Stone takes it to some unexpected places. His fast paced storytelling talent is in play, even if there is perhaps an excess of portentousness, many pages reeking with doom. Stone's strength is his sympathy, he never ceases to care, while the world feels as if it is falling apart. and a play........... Absurd Person Singular - Alan Ayckbourn Ayckbourn's most successful play in the US, it ran on Broadway for over a year. Again he explores the anxiety in the fortunes of the middle class, economic boom and bust fluctuations, shaky marriages. The insane hilarity of the second Act overshadows the other two, still full of chuckles. I thought the ending was inspired, a grotesque dance celebrating the last to first, and the first to last. .
  15. Ethan reads 2015

    Do have a favorite Pym novel to recommend?