dirac

What are you reading?

397 posts in this topic

This is just another survey of what our posters have been reading this summer, dance related or otherwise. Recommend those you liked, warn us off the others.....

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I have read or am still reading a few books this summer including:

When The Astors Owned New York-Blue Bloods And Grand Hotels In A Gilded Age by Justin Kaplin

This era has always facinated me and the book focuses on one of the leading society families of the day

F.U.B.A.R America's Right-Wing Nightmare (I can't say what those letters stand for :flowers: )

by Sam Seder and Stephen Sherrill of Air America's Majority Report

This is a very funny book if you are of the liberal political persuasion.

I'm re-reading one dance book at the moment, Striking A Balance by Barbara Newman. Wonderful interviews with many facinating dancers.

And my latest read is a romance but don't let that stop you. It's called The Taming Of The Duke and it's written by Eloisa James who happens to be an english lit. professor at Fordham University. She writes with the same sparkling wit as the great Georgette Heyer.

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F.U.B.A.R America's Right-Wing Nightmare (I can't say what those letters stand for :flowers: )

An acronym with a military origin, much like snafu.

F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition.

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Lawrence Wright's 'the Looming Tower.' I'll have it in a couple of weeks. Al Qaeda, WTC.

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I'm re-reading one dance book at the moment, Striking A Balance by Barbara Newman. Wonderful interviews with many facinating dancers.
I'm re-reading Barbara Newman too -- but Grace under Pressure: Passing Dance through Time (2003), a discussion including teachers, choreographers, company directors, and repititeurs. I read this a year or so ago, and did plenty of underlining. But another year reading the posts on Ballet Talk has educatead me, and it's interesting to re-visit this book in the light of that. There are enough than insights and opinions to start off dozens of excellent Ballet Talk threads.

Just finished Thomas Ricks's Fiasco(Penguin), a deeply researched account of the run-up to to the Iraq war and its aftermath. I know we don't discuss politics here, though the title itself is a significant political statement. Ricks, a reporter for the Washington Post, makes use of 37,000 pages of official documents. He's conducted many inteviews and had access to a vast number of e-mails written home by American soldiers in Iraq.

I enjoyed Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky biography (2 volumes). The first volume covers his life and work through 1934. The second -- just published -- covers 1934 to 1974. Some of the music talk is rather technical -- though all the names and works are familiar. I would think that many of the musicians on Ballet Talk would enjoy this as well.

Then there's a long-planned summer re-visit to Proust, in the new translations (Penguin Classics). I'm now in the midst of volume 3, The Guermantes Way. Each volume has a different translator. From my point of view, each so far has been a marked improvement on the original Scott Moncrieff translations, even as revised by Enright. Some of the long sentences are as stunning in their line and beauty as the greatest Petipa/Balanchine adagio. I usually think of language primarily as a vehicle for meaning -- but, with this, I'm actually relishing the sensual experience of it all.

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Well, I finally OD’d on Founding Father biographies and appear to be on something of a “speculative fiction” jag. I’m just finishing up Iron Council (the third volume in China Miéville’s Bas-Lag trilogy, along with Perdido Street Station and The Scar) and knocked off the first three of Terry Pratchett’s gazillion or so Discworld books (which are truly, hysterically funny if you’ve been exposed to anything in the standard-order fantasy oeuvre and have worked for any length of time in a bureaucratic organization, whether public, private or academic). I also duly marched through all three volumes of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, as well as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys. (Still can’t get through Cryptonomicon ...) I heartily recommend them all to anyone who likes this sort of thing. I suppose I’ll have to pick up something a bit more learned and respectable after Labor Day. Donald Kagan’s The Peloponnesian War is still lurking on the nightstand along with William Vollman’s Europe Central (which is really just too heavy to hold up in bed – I may have to dissect it into smaller units to get through it). Capote’s In Cold Blood is teed up on the iPod. (I do a lot of my "reading" via my iPod during my walk back and forth to work or when I'm ironing or washing the dishes.)

I’ve been tempted by Fiasco, Cobra II, The Looming Tower, Dying to Win and assorted related titles, but just haven’t had the heart to go there right now ... Recommendation: do read the official 9/11 report if you get the chance (and check out the excerpts from graphic novel (!) version on Slate). I never thought I’d have the opportunity to refer to a government committee report as a “page-turner” – but this one really is!

Bart: I was never able to get much past The Guermantes Way before I ran out of steam, despite really liking Proust – maybe I’ll try the new translations. I’ve been told that Proust’s French is actually much more straightforward and less elaborate than Moncreiff’s English.

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Just read DeLillo's 'Cosmopolis' and started his earlier 'Libra.' Phenomenol novelist, read 'Underworld' some years back. I think 'Cosmopolis' is great, and think Ms. Kakutani's review was one of the most wrong-headed I've read from her. She wrote what was an extremely interesting piece on Franzen's autobio, in which the quotes couldn't be made up, so I can live without reading both this book and not bothering to catch up by finally reading 'the Corrections.' He really sounds bratty. Anybody that didn't have sense enough to keep from describing the WTC attacks as 'their terrible beauty' is pretty tacky.

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I took everyones advice and am reading Robert Caro's The Path to Power.

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Thank you to everyone who’s posted so far. Keep them coming.

papeetepatrick writes:

Just read DeLillo's 'Cosmopolis' and started his earlier 'Libra.' Phenomenol novelist, read 'Underworld' some years back..

I have to get back to De Lillo – I haven’t read anything since Players and White Noise, which were both terrific, mainly because I don’t read as much fiction as I used to, unless you count certain biographies and memoirs.

Kathleen O'Connell writes:

I also duly marched through all three volumes of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, as well as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Diamond Age and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys. (Still can’t get through Cryptonomicon ...)

I read and liked Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle trilogy (the first volume, Quicksilver, is the best, the second is second best, and the third, System of the World, is a letdown - Stephenson has trouble wrapping things up). What is Pullman like?

Le Morte Darthur. A re-read.

The Ecstasy of Owen Muir by Ring Lardner, Jr.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

A Dreadful Man, Brian Aherne’s biography of his friend George Sanders.

The new bio of Laurence Olivier by Terry Coleman.

T.S. Eliot’s adaptation of Murder in the Cathedral for the screen.

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Just finished Roberto Bolano’s book of short stories "Last Evenings on Earth". Good though less so than "By Night in Chile". The narrator of By Night is a priest—in his youth he was a poet—going over the events of his life to himself, not quite taking in much of what is implied. Neruda and Pinochet are minor characters, and there is a great chapter about a seemingly innocent Opus Dei assignment. In "Last Evenings" the story of the Grub was a standout and, in another story, there is a long, very effective retelling of Tarkovsky’s great film Andrei Rubelov. Bolano’s tone is always perfection and carries you nicely over all sorts of rough expository terrain.

Will reread last summer’s H P Hartley’s sad and beautiful "Eustace and Hilda" about a dreamy and impractical brother and his overly practical sister—closely tied to each other—and a sort of Miss Haversham character they meet who changes their lives. A friend of mine—a great Jane Austen fan—has just returned E&H to me to keep himself from reading it a third time.

Also Elizabeth Bowen’s comedic "Death of the Heart", about Portia Quayne, who been left an orphan and is provisionally living in her half-brother’s unfriendly home in London. There is the great character of Eddie, the charming, bad boyfriend of all time, and there is a gruff maid named Machett who almost alone sees the truth of everything. It opens as many of EB’s stories do with an image of swans who swim with icy indignation.

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Over the holiday weekend, I left my half-packed den in a state of disarray and finished (finally!) Anna Karenina.

Now back to Jared Diamond's Catastrophe.

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Congratulations, Helene!

I've been dipping into Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot, which makes me laugh and lets me feel smart (perhaps smug is the better word :dry: ) without challenging me. Smug and lazy? Oh, well.

Twinge of recognition: In the chapter, "Nerd Israel" (because the internet is a Promised Land for nerds), she quotes an anonymous post on Slashdot.org,

"Geeks tend to be focused on very narrow fields of endeavor. The modern geek has been generally dismissed by socity because their passions are viewed as trivial by those people who "see the big picture." Geeks understand that the big picuture is pixilated and thier high level of contribution in small areas grows the picture.. . "

She then elaborates,

Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know. For me, the spark that turns an acquaintance into a friend has usually been kindled by some shared interest, like detective novels or Ulysses S. Grant. As a kid, I never knew what to say to anyone. It was only as a teenage musician that I improved my people chops.

Not to imply that anyone here ever needed to improve their "people chops."

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Some contemporary novels:

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer - What a lovely book! It's a bit of a fantasy where a man is born physically old. His body grows younger, but his mind is chronologically normal. It sounds a little silly, but it's not. In fact, it's an homage to love over a lifetime despite the tragedy of having a body whose age doesn't match up to that of one's mind except for a brief few years in the middle of life. A very poignant book written poetically.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. It's the story of two young girls in China growing up in the 1800's. Another poetically written book, this one's about the special "laotong" contract entered into by the parents of these two girls. Very interesting historical novel. A bit of a mystery runs through it.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. This one's a reread for me. I've read it twice before, the first time in a Russian history class in high school. Spine-tingling and sad.

With all the talk about Russian books on the other thread, I've decided to reread War and Peace by Tolstoy. I have read it once a decade since I was about 21. Now that I'm in my 50's, it's a good time. It's a good book to grow up with. I read it more for the young romances than anything else when I was in my 20's. I went on, with subsequent readings, to enjoy the historical perspective, the descriptive passages, and now the older people. In fact, I read about them with gusto! Whodathunkit way back when? :dry:

Nonfiction:

Engaging Autism: Helping Children Relate, Communicate and Think with the DIR Floortime Approach by Stanley Greenspan. This one was my required summer reading since I do floortime therapy with a few kids. Fascinating read for anyone interested in autism.

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I've been dipping into Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot...
Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know.

And just today, I passed a man at work whose t-shirt read, "Talk nerdy to me."

(I was tempted to whisper, "Circuit board" as I passed him, but I can't do sultry for the life of me.)

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I just finished Quartered Safe Out Here, a memoir by George MacDonald Fraser about his infantry service in Burma in WWII. Fraser wrote the Flashman historical/comic novels. This is a good read about a relatively little-known part of that war and also is very interesting as a coming-of-age story. Fraser was nineteen and was tapped to lead much more experienced soldiers.

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Claire Messud, author of the just-released novel "the Emperor's Children," was interviewed by Diane Rehm on NPR this morning. She read a long selection, and it was beautiful. I sat in my car for fifteen minutes after arriving at my destination, just so I wouldn't miss the rest of the interview.

I first heard of this book in a review in The Economist which went so far as to recommend that everyone buy TWO copies -- and give one to a friend. (Statements like that are unheard of in the arts pages of that magazine, which was enough to get me to order the book from Amazon. Just one copy, but at an excellent discount, I'm glad to report.)

I'm not generally fond of contemporary fiction nowadays, so it was quite exciting to hear Messud respond to a listener's question about Tom Wolfe by commenting that she had never read his work, didn't read a lot of contemporary fiction, and actually prefers 19th century novels like "Buddenbrooks" and the works of Tolstoy. And this from someone who is quite young!

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I just finished Quartered Safe Out Here, a memoir by George MacDonald Fraser about his infantry service in Burma in WWII. Fraser wrote the Flashman historical/comic novels. This is a good read about a relatively little-known part of that war and also is very interesting as a coming-of-age story. Fraser was nineteen and was tapped to lead much more experienced soldiers.

I haven't read that one, but I love the Flashman books, although they've begun to run out of steam, hardly surprising after such a long run. I also enjoyed Fraser's book on the Scottish border raiders, "The Steel Bonnets."

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I'm not generally fond of contemporary fiction nowadays, so it was quite exciting to hear Messud respond to a listener's question about Tom Wolfe by commenting that she had never read his work, didn't read a lot of contemporary fiction, and actually prefers 19th century novels like "Buddenbrooks" and the works of Tolstoy. And this from someone who is quite young!

Claire Massud is married to the critic James Wood, who has been writing on and on (in the New Republic and most recently N+1) about the state of the contemporary novel, so they must have a lot to talk about over breakfast and dinner on this subject. Here is Wood in the Guardian on the "glass bottom boat" school of writing of many current novelists--the sort of writing Claire Massud seems to be pushing away from:

Franzen is a very intelligent, very appealing writer; so much so that an essentially dark book stays in the memory as warm and comic. To call it Tolstoyan seems exaggerated, however. The novelist Michael Cunningham likens it to Buddenbrooks, but a comparison of those two novels shows The Corrections to be wide rather than deep, and smart rather than subtle. It has some of Mann's sweep and some of his gentle comedy (and even some of his Schopenhauer); but it lacks the luminous control of that great German book. Indeed, The Corrections suffers from a desire to put too much in. His novel is a kind of glass-bottomed boat through which one can glimpse most of the various currents of contemporary American fiction: domestic realism; postmodern cultural riffing; campus farce; "smart young man's irony" of the kind familiar in Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace; and, rather too often, an easy journalism of style.

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I never get to participate in these threads because (to my shame) I barely read. But I just finished a book! (woohoo!) - Kschessinska's memoirs, "Dancing in Petersburg". I write more about it on my blog, but it's most striking for a study in narrative voice. You're always wondering as you read it what she's leaving out.

I've temporarily put aside Solomon Volkov's "St. Petersburg, A Cultural History" to read and return a book lent to me by a friend who shares my fascination with northern climes, "Arctic Dreams" by Barry Lopez. Alas, there is no ballet I know of in Nunavut or Greenland.

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Thanks, Papeet, for the Kakutani link. It predisposes me towards Franzen. Kakutani gets so angry I can barely read her--her run of the mill adjectives almost burst at the seams with anger towards whoever she is reviewing. And the last paragraph is routinely merciless.

She can be sensible from time to time. She wrote an essay about how young people are afraid to express themselves, afraid to enter into debate, for fear of offending anyone. And that this was impoverishing us as a nation. But then she went on to ruin it by blaming it all on the powerful influence of French intellectual thought, Derrida, Barthes et al, her bete noir, over English language literature.

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I haven’t read “The Corrections,” but I must say whenever I’ve seen Franzen's byline on an article the contents of same tend to be deeply pompous, and so I suspect Kakutani is right on the money.

This wouldn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of his fiction, however, because it’s quite possible for an novelist to have less than attractive qualities when off the clock and still be a fine writer.

Quiggin writes:

But then she went on to ruin it by blaming it all on the powerful influence of French intellectual thought, Derrida, Barthes et al, her bete noir, over English language literature.

It's an institutional prejudice, I fear. I was dismayed by the Times obituary for Derrida.

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It's an institutional prejudice, I fear. I was dismayed by the Times obituary for Derrida.

It's a bit like that at the New Yorker too. Alex Ross takes rather cheap shots at Adorno who, while extemely difficult, has written beautifully on Beethoven, Mahler, and on the language of music.

Even Michael Kimmerman at the Times in otherwise excellent review on the terrible replacement for the Musee de l"Homme in Paris, stops Walter Benjamin short:

The critic Walter Benjamin, who remarked that "there is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism," said he could not "contemplate without horror" the works we call "cultural treasures."

That was going too far.

NYTimes: Kimmelman article

Everything goes too far for the Times.

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It's an institutional prejudice, I fear. I was dismayed by the Times obituary for Derrida.

It's a bit like that at the New Yorker too. Alex Ross takes rather cheap shots at Adorno who, while extemely difficult, has written beautifully on Beethoven, Mahler, and on the language of music.

Even Michael Kimmerman at the Times in otherwise excellent review on the terrible replacement for the Musee de l"Homme in Paris, stops Walter Benjamin short:

The critic Walter Benjamin, who remarked that "there is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism," said he could not "contemplate without horror" the works we call "cultural treasures."

That was going too far.

NYTimes: Kimmelman article

Everything goes too far for the Times.

I respectfully disagree with all this. Having read a great deal of Derrida, Benjamin, and Adorno, I am very aware of the spell they can induce. While under it, it is almost impossible not to stand at rapt attention and even worship. Which does not mean they are not important, of course they are even though I would take even a single page of Deleuze's 'Mille Plateaux' over all of Derrida's effete delicacies (although in 'A Taste for the Secret' he does hit on something I hadn't yet found expressed quite so uncannily. Later I found that Lyotard said the same thing, but in a less death-loving way. Derrida himself said 'I think of nothing but death.' His business, but 6 volumes of Derrida was like a lovely life sentence I can look back on.) A lot of people took umbrage at the Times's obituary of Derrida. What startled me were op-eds declaring him the most famous (and most important? surely that is what is meant there) philosopher in the world (I suppose until his death, and including no one even immediately previous. Deleuze and Foucault were far more important to many of us--more life-giving, and not less true by virtue of their refusal to concentrate solely on tedium and death.)

While Kakutani overemphasizes this, it is a necessary attitude for some non-rednecks to take, because the snob appeal in the French post-structuralists and post-modernists is enormous and equally as tiresome as she can be. Under the circumstances, she really ought to find Mailer's unsavoury characterization of her quite refreshing, at least in the sense that it does not reek of anything even remotely Derridean. The main problem she has here is not making the difference in the vast array of French philosophers of the last 50 years. There are many who think Baudrillard is a charlatan; I, on the other hand, think he is capable of huge sloppiness and occasional extraordinary profundity. that's just one of many examples. I find Slavoj Zizek to be a mere careerist with sparkles of cleverness (he's Slovenian, of course).

The Times is always sort of middle-cult, you can't expect it to be subtle. Show me a greater newspaper, despite its massive faults.

I agree with Kimmelman on Benjamin except that Benjamin was not even worth quoting in this regard. Anybody who has read 'the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' knows of his polemic of 'the film', how putting it together piece by piece comes up with this artificial 'perfect orchid' and his discussions of 'auras' are sure to put in the humourless 'the bad aura of the cult of the film star.' It would be interesting to know what he'd think now, when even this 'bad cult of the film star' is hardly to be seen as it was once. This is the serious intellectualism that is useful and useless by turns. Same with Adorno, whose writing on music is remote and purposely difficult, abstruse to the point that only a very few can understand any of it. And the usual Frankfurt Marxist humorlessness with his ridiculing of 'the light popular cinema' and the inferiority of jazz, among the most overrated and overdiscussed writings on art and 'artworks' I've ever had the displeasure to waste much too much time on. These are both examples of the high-minded philosopher who has the greater breadth of mind to write Scripture about art--Heidegger's horrible tracts as in 'The Origin of the Work of Art' are further examples of the arrogance of the philosopher. The artist, on the other hand, is not granted any reciprocal rights when it comes to philosophy. They even say this quite openly and until this day. To my knowledge, Deleuze is the only one of these French philosophers who had the largeness of mind to realize that the philosopher is not the only privileged thinker.

Dirac--point well taken about how Franzen may be a fine novelist nevertheless. It was the particular odious qualities that Franzen bragged on, not that they were just odious. William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote all have a host of qualities one might describe as odious, and they've never stopped me. Franzen just sounds like a bratty child or spoiled teenager, although I don't doubt he can write. I also wasn't swayed by Kakutani's opinions of Franzen, but rather his direct quotes.

To counter any accusation of being off-topic, I will say that I am now reading ms. Kakutani's review of Bruce Wagner's latest novel. Although I think she is almost always wrong about which of his books are best, this particular review is far more subtle, assessing how the characters were made complicated and then unconvincingly simplified. On the other hand, I could never be a fan of hers, after her review of Didion's 'The Last thing He Wanted' and DeLillo's 'Cosmopolis.' She's occasionally useful, but no artist herself. Sontag said she never understood any of her novels. although she reviewed favourably some of what I think are Sontag's most ugly-styled novels (for me, this includes all of her novels, although not all of her essays, which are often extremely interesting.)

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papeetepatrick writes: Sontag said she never understood any of her novels. although she reviewed favourably some of what I think are Sontag's most ugly-styled novels (for me, this includes all of her novels, although not all of her essays, which are often extremely interesting.)

I read “Death Kit” and “The Volcano Lover” and figured that was plenty. “On Photography” is one of my favorites – really remarkable stuff in that.

A lot of people took umbrage at the Times's obituary of Derrida.

I was bothered less by content than the tone of the thing – I don’t have time to look it up, but at the time the adjective ‘snotty’ seemed like an accurate characterization.

Show me a greater newspaper, despite its massive faults.

I’m intensely grateful for the NYT. I remember discovering it in high school, out here on the West Coast, and it was a revelation to me of what a great newspaper was like. It’s big enough to take a punch now and then, though.

bart writes:

I'm not generally fond of contemporary fiction nowadays, so it was quite exciting to hear Messud respond to a listener's question about Tom Wolfe by commenting that she had never read his work, didn't read a lot of contemporary fiction, and actually prefers 19th century novels like "Buddenbrooks" and the works of Tolstoy.

Funny. Tom Wolfe has similar preferences. :)

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