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What Are You Reading?Winter 2010


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#61 bart

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 02:37 PM

[ ... ] I decided to buy "Prefaces to Shakespeare" by Tony Tanner. Written originally for an Everyman's Library edition of the collected plays, published as seven volumes, the prefaces are for the general reader (whoever he or she may be) but by no means simplified in any way other than the lack of scholarly aparatus such as footnotes.

After reading your post, I ordered from Amazon and have just received my copy. :)

I turned right away to Romeo and Juliet. (A couple of weeks ago we saw an excellent touring production by the Acting Company.) It's amazing reading -- much the most insightful and original treatment of the play I've read. His discussion of the elements of "comedy" and -- to a much lesser extent -- "tragedy" in R&J was an eye opener. It occurred to me that the director of the production I saw might easily have read Tanner's Preface before setting the play.

Tanner discusses the similarities in theme and subject matter in this play and Midsummer Night's Dream, suggesting that Shakespeare may have been working on both plays at the same time. It's no coincidence that each of these plays has provided the characters and story for very effective and much-loved ballets. :)

2 plays down -- only 35 more to go! :) :)

#62 Richka

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 04:27 PM

Right now I'm reading Tchaikovsky by Roland John Wiley. It's tough going, there are alternating chapters of chronological events and the technical analysis of the music written during those events. My own background in music is limited; I can read music but just barely so much of the detail here goes over my head.

It's also very heavily peppered with source citations which are noted in a complex way. Also a lot of details are presented in bullet point, which seems a bit unusual for a biography.

All this is to say that I'm probably not the real target audience for this volume. Still, I can skim over parts and focus on a lot of very rich detail. I'm finding Wiley's analysis of "missing" documentation, (i.e. letters and other correspondence) which Modest and other "groomers" made disappear also interesting.

At this point I'm in the last five years of Tchaikovsky's life and so I'm getting swept along in that.....


Am into this too and loving it. I really appreciate the attention to the life AND to the work. It made me think, though--why don't biographers of composers take advantage of new technologies and include audio tracks with the musical notation examples? (Dance writers could do the same w/videos, the powers-at-be willing...).


Your posting made me want to re-read "Tchaikovsky's Ballets" also by Roland John Wiley that has been on my shelf for many years, actually since The Author gave it to me, and that I still treasure. What features made up a successful work at the time Tchaikovsky started his career in ballet is discussed in such interesting detail. And the musical as well as choreographic notations of Petipa are illustrated and explained so brilliantly. What a vast amount of research Mr. Wiley had done on this and it is an education in itself on that period of Imperial Ballet. The detailed analysis of the first productions of Swan Lake, Nutcraker, Sleeping Beauty, with revisions of the music. It should be noted that Mr. Wiley also translated these books from Russian! Being Russian speaking myself, I know this could not have been an easy task.

#63 Ed Waffle

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 03:37 PM

[ ... ] I decided to buy "Prefaces to Shakespeare" by Tony Tanner. Written originally for an Everyman's Library edition of the collected plays, published as seven volumes, the prefaces are for the general reader (whoever he or she may be) but by no means simplified in any way other than the lack of scholarly aparatus such as footnotes.

Thanks for this suggestion, Ed. After reading your post, I ordered from Amazon and have just received my copy. :)

I turned right away to Romeo and Juliet. (A couple of weeks ago we saw an excellent touring production by the Acting Company.) It's amazing reading -- much the most insightful and original treatment of the play I've read. His discussion of the elements of "comedy" and -- to a much lesser extent -- "tragedy" in R&J was an eye opener. It occurred to me that the director of the production I saw might easily have read Tanner's Preface before setting the play.

Tanner discusses the similarities in theme and subject matter in this play and Midsummer Night's Dream, suggesting that Shakespeare may have been working on both plays at the same time. It's no coincidence that each of these plays has provided the characters and story for very effective and much-loved ballets. :)

2 plays down -- only 35 more to go! :o


I was amazed with Tanner's discussion of R&J, particularly the way he situates it as a comedy. Having seen this play quite often, I sometimes catch myself wondering how I could be laughing at, for example, some of the early antics of the Nurse while realizing that it is R&J and everyone will be tragically dead by the end of the play. Brilliantly enough, Tanner even shows how the accidental double suicide of our hero and heroine is potentially full of comic elements.

The tale seems endlessly inspiriing--Prokofiev's ballet score is simply sublime and (from Italian sources) Bellini's "I Capuleti e i Montecchi" is a superb bel canto opera--and quite a showpiece for singers.

I have found one annoying aspect of "Prefaces to Shakespeare". All footnotes and bibliography accompanied the prefaces in their original form as prefaces to each of the plays published by Everyman's Library. This would not be a problem except that all the references to the no longer existing footnotes are still in the text so one will be reading along and come upon "This is in line with Ernest Schanzer's contention in his essay..." and "As Phillips puts it:..." both on the same page in the preface to "Julius Caesar" plus the occasional (idem) and (op. cit).

This is probably due to overly parsimonious practices on the part of the publisher deciding not to pay for a thorough editorial job for the new iteration.

Certainly doesn't detract from the essays themselves which are a joy to read.

#64 Farrell Fan

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 05:39 PM

I'm reading Anne Tyler's most recent novel, "Noah's Compass." The list of her previous works at the front of the book includes seventeen earlier novels. I've read them all. There's no doubt she is my favorite living writer. I love her limpid prose, gently tinged with humor and melancholy. And I love her characters -- most of whom I'd like to know. In the present instance, Liam, the protagonist, is a sixty year old man who has been fired from his teaching job, but now has a chance at happiness with a considerably younger woman. His first marriage ended with his wife's death and his second in divorce. He is a man after my own heart, although I was never divorced, only widowed once, and am now almost two decades older. I was, however, fired from my advertising copywriter's job at age sixty.

#65 vipa

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 05:55 PM

Great book - Einstein's God by Krista Tippett

#66 Farrell Fan

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Posted 09 April 2010 - 08:50 PM

I finished "Noah's Compass." Like much of Anne Tyler's fiction, it was sad but not depresing. She is wonderful.

#67 vagansmom

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Posted 17 April 2010 - 02:48 PM

Has anyone ever read Alice McDermott? Her novels are about contemporary-ish Irish American Catholics. I first read Charming Billy which won the National Book Award in 1998, and loved it despite finding it depressing. Although I was raised Italian American Catholic, her characters are deeply familiar to me, as are their daily lives. I've read two of her other novels, At Weddings and Wakes and Child of My Heart and found each riveting and depressing. I'm drawn to her novels, but have finish each one almost wishing I hadn't even started. Yet I'm about to begin another one :)

Any authors do that to you?

#68 dirac

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Posted 29 April 2010 - 07:36 PM

Hello, vagansmom. I haven't read McDermott myself, but perhaps someone else has. I have a similar reaction to William Trevor (it sounds from your description as if the two of them may cover similar territory). His short stories are enthralling but very depressing in the aggregate.

#69 Ray

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Posted 05 May 2010 - 08:29 AM

Your posting made me want to re-read "Tchaikovsky's Ballets" also by Roland John Wiley that has been on my shelf for many years, actually since The Author gave it to me, and that I still treasure. What features made up a successful work at the time Tchaikovsky started his career in ballet is discussed in such interesting detail. And the musical as well as choreographic notations of Petipa are illustrated and explained so brilliantly. What a vast amount of research Mr. Wiley had done on this and it is an education in itself on that period of Imperial Ballet. The detailed analysis of the first productions of Swan Lake, Nutcraker, Sleeping Beauty, with revisions of the music. It should be noted that Mr. Wiley also translated these books from Russian! Being Russian speaking myself, I know this could not have been an easy task.


Considering his interest in ballet, Wiley doesn't mention Balanchine or any other of Tchaikovsky's posthumous dance interpreters at all (and yes, he does discuss those who came after Tchaikovsky's death, most notably Stravinsky). Interestingly, he provides a wonderful description of the violin cadenza that begins theme 10 in the theme and variations section of Suite No. 3, which Balanchine used for a pas de deux in Theme and Variations:

"It is a ballerina's music in the sparse texture, nuances of tempo, and unobtrusive arabesques in the winds .... Tchaikovsky has introduced an imperial, even Petersburgian image into his finale. ... he affirms the Petersburgian imagery in variation 12 [the final variation] with a massive polonaise. In its spacious dimensions and long approach to the main theme, it presses the boundary between theatrical conceit and the direct musical representation of imperial grandeur" (276-77).

It's hard to believe Wiley hadn't seen Balanchine's work! In any case, I can't recommend this bio highly enough. The musical examples/descriptions using heavy terminology are easy to skim over (although I do wish I could sightread music better). I can hardly wait to get to Tchaikovsky's Ballets.

#70 papeetepatrick

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Posted 05 May 2010 - 09:41 AM

Getting all into Shelley now, because of my friend Dominic Fox, whom I recently mentioned on the Twitter thread as the genius poet he is despite all (meaning the software writing, the Andrea Dworkin, and the fact that he twitters too, that he does heavy metal and sings folksongs to his own guitar playing, is a responsible citizen, oh it's just too much of a true embarassment of riches, he even allows Socialists to make him feel guilty for having gone to Oxford--although I bring that up, because he doesn't let that part show in the poems.) Dominic is following the example of Shelley's 'The Masque of Anarchy' in his new series 'After Slumber', for which he also hopes to write 91 poems, although not directly in parallel. He has written 12 thus far, and I didn't begin to 'get it' until # xi. This is the most exciting reading of a colleague I've done in years, not least because he discusses Shelley with me at some length, and also explains all sorts of archaisms he uses in the poems which are pretty restricted to Britain and never used in the U.S., past or present; and I also therefore expect to start 'Prometheus Unbound' forthwith, having been meaning to get to it for some 10 years now. I know the Aeschylus very well, although I've never seen it. Just yesterday, was quite thrilled to find the 'Prometheus Unbound' is on the net, for anybody who might possibly be interested. I imagine a lot more of these longer things are now online than even a year before. This is going to inspire me, while I also continue Auchincloss's 'La Gloire: The Roman Empire of Corneille and Racine', which is a series of essays on about 20 Corneille and Racine plays, and with the usual incisiveness.

#71 vagansmom

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 05:43 PM

Dirac, I get a similar feeling sometimes with William Trevor's works, however some have enough humor to make them worth it.

I'm still reading Italian literature. Just finished Leonardo Sciascia's book of short stories, The Wine-Dark Sea which I enjoyed immensely. Each was quite different from the others as opposed to Verga - Cavalleria Rusticana and Other Stories which are all ultimately about how dismal the lives of the poor were and how the law was always on the side of the wealthy and powerful. I especially liked the title story in Sciascia's book. It's about how our impressions of others changes with time and space. The story is told humorously.

Next up is Goffredo Parise's two volumes, Solitudes and abecedary - more short stories. Until this year, I'd rather read a novel than a short story, but I have had such a great time with all these Italian stories that I don't think I can quit them.

In the midst of all the Italian, I've also read The Bright Forever by Lee Marvin. I started off thinking, "OK, it's like The Lovely Bones, " but I ended up having a much greater respect for this book. Within a story driven by the search for a missing 9 year old girl, Marvin writes about a man, Henry Dees, who's a voyeur, although not a sexual pervert. His is a complex character, and Marvin renders it with compassion.

Other books just finished: Lisa Moore's February, another book I started off thinking was just OK, but then fell in love with, and Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway, mom to an autistic boy. It's the true story of how a dog, Cowboy, was the key to her autistic son's becoming more sociable and conquering some of his biggest fears. Poignant and honest. It's a quick, easy read and well worth it.

#72 vipa

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 07:05 PM

Someone just gave me "Infinite Jest" David Foster Wallace. Daunting in length. Is it worth it?

#73 dirac

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Posted 22 May 2010 - 08:56 PM

Thanks for telling us what you're reading, vagansmom. Trevor is definitely worth it - he's a favorite of mine - and if nothing else you'll close the book thinking, You know, it could be worse. :dry:

vipa, I couldn't get through Infinite Jest, but it was a long time ago and perhaps I didn't try hard enough. Anyone else?

#74 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 06:57 AM

Just finished Wiley's "A Century of Russian Ballet...(later on will quote some fragments of reviews of the first performances of Sleeping Beauty...the reviewer is hilarious! :dry: ). Also working on Zorina's autobiography-(surprisingly humble)- and charming Dostoyevsky's "The Village of Stepanchikovo". :wub:

#75 Rosa

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Posted 25 May 2010 - 07:54 AM

Recently I finished Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel (didn't like it as much as I expected), Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives (a difficult but interesting read), and An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government by William C. Davis which focused on Jefferson Davis, the president, and John C. Breckinridge, his Secretary of War.

Currently I'm reading Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer. So far it is proving to be a delightful and humorous story.


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