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Fall Reading, anyone?

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We've all finished our summer vacations (hopefully we've HAD a summer vacation), and we're back to the daily grind. What are you reading? What have you recently read? What do you like? What's on your beside table?

I've been too busy to read as much as usual, but do have a couple of books finished this month.

I just finished Jim Frey's A Million Little Pieces, an autobiographical account of his six weeks spent in rehab facility so he could quit his severe addiction to drugs and alcohol. Easy read and very touching. This man rejected many of the "Twelve Steps", particularly belief in God and attending AA meetings afterwards. The lives of the real people he encountered in rehab were fascinating and truly tragic. At the end of the book, he tells us what became of them. I also learned that the success rate of that facility, the one with the highest success rate in the country, hovers around 15% - 17%! I recommend this book. It's a bit graphic but important, I think, because of how he draws us to the goodness of each of these very flawed individuals.

Am currently reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Yes, I fell for the title,

:(, just as he expected people would. Well, I also fell for the fact that the book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Not finished with it yet but it's a very funny treatment of very tragic, and recent, circumstances in the author's life. Both his parents die, of cancer, within weeks or months of each other. Frey has two older siblings but also a 7 year old brother. He's managed to make me laugh a lot despite all the pain.

Neither of these books are written in a style I usually read and I have to say that I am grateful for that because they are each little gems!

What about you?

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I mostly read history and older novels (Balzac a favorite), but I was attracted to a book while listening to an NPR interview: "Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior." The author, Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State, has a PhD in animal science and is herself autistic. At one point in the introduction she comments about the pain of growing up autistic: "Animals saved me."

The insights into animal feeling, thought, and suffering are astonishing. It is also helping me to empathize with and understand more deeply two young people in my circle who have high-level autism.

Here's an example of the kind of insight that has forced me to see quite a lot of the world differently:

"Animals are like autistic savants. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that animals might actually BE autistic savants. Animals have special talents normal people don't the same way autistic people have special talents normal people don't; and at least some animals have special forms of genius normal people don't ... "

"The reason we've managed to live witih animals all these years without noticing many of their special talents is simlpe: we can't see those talents. Normal people never have the special talents animals have, sonormal people don't know what to look for. Normal people can stare straight at the sanimal doing something brilliant and have no idea what they're seeing. Animal genius is invisible to the naked eye."

As one who is often too cerebral and analytical ("abstractified," she calls it), I am learning much from this book about how essential and even beautiful the capacity for empathy can be.

P.S. I orderd the book by cllicking our sponsor Amazon at the top of Ballet Talk pages.

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Bart, I'm so glad you mentioned this book. I read Grandin's two other books, Thinking in Pictures and Emergence: Labeled Autistic. I've heard both she and her mother speak several times and also know some relatives of hers. So I'm thrilled to hear that she has a new book. If you haven't read the other two, they're definitely worth the time. Thinking in Pictures was her second book and a good portion of it discusses her life's work with animals although the book itself is really about how she, an autistic, lives in a world of people who don't understand autism. I'm looking forward to reading her new one now. Thank you! :(

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Other than work books (for the diss.) I'm mostly rereading this fall: old favorites that I've read to peices and books I don't remember well enough anymore. I'm in the middle of Daniel Deronda right now, inspired to reread it since I read The Mill on the Floss this summer. Next on my list is either Moby Dick or Brother's Karamozov.

I also read myself to sleep every night with books that I have more or less memorized (Father Brown stories, Dorothy Sayers, lots of different kids' books, last night it was Up On Cloud Nine by Anne Fine).

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I've been rereading Walker Percy's "The Last Gentleman" and reading for the first time Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." Just tonight I bought "Without End: New and Selected Poems" by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, and I'm about to begin "de Kooning: An American Master." I've recently finished Julian Bell's "What is Painting: Representation and Modern Art."

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I realized that, by sheer coincidence, the book I'm reading now and the one immediately before both center on Irish-American girls/young women who endure the loss of an older brother. The first, Name All the Animals, is a memoir by Alison Smith, a beautifully written account of how she and her parents cope (or don't) with the death of the son/brother and her own coming of (almost) age.

I'm now enjoying Mila Goldberg's new novel, Wickett's Remedy, which has enjoyed no shortage of publicity. It makes more sense once I realized whose voice is represented in the marginalia. :shhh:

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I'm also revisiting Diane Solway's biography, Nureyev: His Life. It is in some ways an entirely new experience, after all I've learned from Ballet Talk and beginner ballet classes. It's astonishing to see again what a phenomenon he was, and how the guarantee of his name and presence -- dancing every night, often in multiple ballets -- made it possible for so many companies, dancers, and choreography to appear in the US.

I saw Nureyev on stage only 6 or 7 times, with the Royal, the Canadians, and once much later in Paris.

Plus the Balanchine Bourgeois Gentilhomme, which I remember hardly at all. :wallbash:

This was usually from far-out seats, so the thrill of being there was not always fulfilled by the actual experience of the dancing. (Except R&J.) I wish I'd seen some of his work with modern companies, especially in smaller theaters.

I remember the drama and the staging more than the steps; Nureyev knew how to tell and display a story. I will never forget the excitement so many people -- often not otherwise interested in dance -- expressed when they were "going to see Nureyev." And that was the term people used: "Are you going to see Nureyev?"

The Solway book has brought me back to an old videotape of his 1987 Cinderella. (When I saw it originally on Great Performances I didn't reealize I was watching the fledgling phenomenon that would be Sylvie Guillem. Or the relationship with Charles Jude.) I've also dusted off the Fonteyn-Nureyev Romeo and Juliet and the Canadian National Sleeping Beauty for the near future.

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Nureyev had an amazing career, didn’t he? I think it’s perfectly safe to say we won’t see the like again.

I love the Father Brown stories too, dido. As you say, they’re perfect bedtime reading. Dorothy Sayers is a great mystery writer in that particular style, which isn’t one I especially care for (me heap big fan Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler).

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Dirac, which Clarence Day book are you reading? I loved Life With Father and have reread it often as bedtime reading. But I've never read anything else by him. I checked Amazon and see that there's a "Best of..." set.

Even though this is a book discussion site, I want to plug a Masterpiece Theater series that's now on DVD. The book, To Serve Them All My Days by Delderfield is one of my favorites and the mini-series was every bit its match. I'm thrilled to find the DVD set and just ordered it as a Christmas gift to my marriage, lol. My husband and I were young marrieds back when that series was first shown and we both have very fond memories of Sunday evenings with Alistair Cooke introducing each new episode. In fact, we named one of our children after a character in that series (which I saw before I read the book). The series is brilliantly acted.

In case anyone's interested, it's the story of a young Welsh man who has returned shell-shocked from WW1. It was recommended that he seek a job as a teacher at an English public (what we call private here in the USA) boarding school for boys. The book tells the story of his tenure there between the two world wars. It's about teaching, it's about heading a school, it's about war, love, families, students, and politics too. Delderfield himself had socialist convictions and his protagonist in this book is the Welsh son of a miner. His life at an English boarding school for children of wealthy families is a far cry from his upbringing and his political views reflect that.

I've just dusted off this Delderfield book and plan to reread it before the holiday miniseries marathon. :)

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I've been reading Roger Penrose's "The Road to Reality: a complete guide to the laws of the universe" since the end of summer, and it will last through NYCB's winter season and into ABT's Met season. This is the "math version" of Stephen Hawking's cosmology books.

A quote from the chapter (page) I've been reading this week: "Galilean spacetime is a fibre bundle with base space E1 and fibre E3." This implies (quoting, but using words for certain math symbols) "we do not have just one 3-D space as an arena for the actions of the physical world evolving with time, we have a different 3-D space for each moment in time, with no natural identification between these various 3-D spaces." I find this very vital way of seeing things is made manifest when watching Suzanne Farrell, or now Ashley Bouder, dance Balanchine: the music being the sanity that holds it all together!

It is amazing that Galileo's perception of the universe needs math that wasn't yet in the curiculum when I studied it! No wonder the poor guy was a heretic. It really is a fascinating book, and I can't wait to get to what Einstein really meant (if I can get that far). With such books you cheat and read the last page. The ending: "...what we mainly need is some subtle change in perspective--something we all have missed..." It is refreshing to know that that is true even for the two smartest people on the planet.

My get-back-to book is Maya Plisetskaya's autobiography (what with her 80th birthday approaching):


Stalin has her father killed, her mother dumped in a gulag, she dances Swan Lake for balletomane (!) Mao....

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I have just started reading the recently released "Alan J. Pakula, His Films and His Life" by Jared Brown. I have read 2 of Browns biographies and I find them very informative and well written. In this book Brown discusses Pakula's life and his production/direction of his various movies ("All The President's Men", "Sophie's Choice", "To Kill A Mockingbird", to name a few). Ideally I'd like to see each movie as I read its chapter in the book but that would either cost me a fortune or have me running back and forth to Blockbuster. I did do it with "To Kill............" and it was great fun.


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drb: as someone who is very much math-challenged, I am in awe. Two things I wish I could do: high level math (heck, I'd settle for accurate arithmetic) and great dancing. :o

dirac's and vagansmom's mention of Clarence Day brought back instant (and alarmingly detailed) memories of a 1950s tv series of "Life with Father". I even recalled then names of the actors who played mom and dad: Leon Ames and Lureen Tuttle. This from someone who has to refresh my memory periodically about the names and athors of books I read last week :):huh:

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bart, I can do better than that. I have trouble remembering birthdays of loved ones and the amount of money in my checking account, but not only do I recall Leon and Lurene but William Powell and Irene Dunne in the movie. I've never seen the series, but I saw the picture and disliked it. Too broad, too cutesy-wootsy -- even Powell was off form -- and the actual Clarence Day, Sr. would have snorted at the ending. I never saw the TV series -- what was it like?

vagansmom, my book is an old one called The Best of Clarence Day, which was put together after his death. It contains Life with Father, God and My Father, Life with Mother, and This Simian World.

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dirac, I was a kid, and it's funny how well I remember the look, the setting, and the relationships within the family, but not the plots. I Googled to see what is out there. Among what I found was this:


"2.08 [--] Life With Father: FATHER AND THE DANCING LESSON

copyright date 13Jan55 (rerun 25Oct56)


Clarence must learn the two-step for the big dance and Father assures

him he'll teach him. Then Father enrolls in a dancing school to learn

it and so does Clarence. [RF]"

You get the idea: Father Knows Best in Edwardian dress.

Not much happened, but it was gentle and very secure (emotionally and financially) It depicted a world that had not, could not, and would not change in any profound way. Ever. That, even more than the rather stiff and (to me) entirely unrealistic portrayal of the Day children, was what must have appealed to me.

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Not much happened, but it was gentle and very secure (emotionally and financially) It depicted a world that had not, could not, and would not change in any profound way. Ever. That, even more than the rather stiff and (to me) entirely unrealistic portrayal of the Day children, was what must have appealed to me.

Interesting, and thank you for the info. The stories aren’t really like that. The family is very specifically Victorian. The world is gentle and secure, yes, but Father doesn’t always know best, although he thinks he does, and Day, Jr. describes a world that’s changing all the time – he tells a story about the family’s first telephone, and what happened to their old family home in Madison Avenue when the neighborhood changed, and describes the gentle conflict between his parents that arises late in their married life when Mrs. Day musters up the courage to ask her husband for an allowance. (The author observes that women in those days had little ready cash and not much need for it – they couldn’t venture far without a male escort, their elaborate heavy dresses and hairdos limited their mobility, they rarely lunched out except in private houses, etc. But Mrs. Day’s younger friends get allowances from their husbands, instead of constantly having to apply to their spouses for funds, and this makes an impression on his mother.) Day tells a story about his father insisting that he learn to play the violin, although Clarence, Jr. has no ear for music, and although the story is gentle and funny you can also see that it must have been a painful and somewhat humiliating experience.

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The stories aren’t really like that.  The world is gentle and secure, yes, but Father doesn’t always know best, although he thinks he does, and Day, Jr. describes a world that’s changing all the time

True of the tv show, too, as with "Father Knows Best." The larger point, however, of the tv "Life with Father" and innumerable other shows of the period was something quite different. The plot and humor came from the need to deal with change, definitely. (Father doesn't really know as much as he thinks.)

But the writing always conveyed the message that these changes, however agitating at the moment, are not really to be feared. (Father has wisdom, even when he doesn't know it.) The larger continuity of a basically good world, strong family, and eternal verities was what counted. And that could survive and even embrace a great deal of surface change.

The story you refer to about the violin would not, I think, have been presented in that form in this series. There would have had to be a comfortable, value-confirming conclusion. At least on commercial tv -- in America -- in the 1950s.

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Not much happened, but it was gentle and very secure (emotionally and financially) It depicted a world that had not, could not, and would not change in any profound way. Ever. That, even more than the rather stiff and (to me) entirely unrealistic portrayal of the Day children, was what must have appealed to me.
Ah, just like Mr. Rogers. :thanks:
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bart writes:

(Father has wisdom, even when he doesn't know it.)

One of the distinguishing features of Clarence Day, Sr. was his total lack of wisdom (not brains, he was plenty smart).

vagansmom writes:

My husband and I were young marrieds back when that series was first shown and we both have very fond memories of Sunday evenings with Alistair Cooke introducing each new episode.

With all due respect to Russell Baker, Masterpiece Theatre has never been the same without Alistair Cooke. I can hear him now.

kfw, I read Winesburg, Ohio back in school and although I liked it I never returned to it -- too sad. Sherwood Anderson is one of the forgotten men of American literature.

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Quick note: I mentioned Jim Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, in my first post on this thread. I just heard that he will be featured on "Oprah" this coming Wednesday, October 26. I'm excited about it because after reading his story, I've wondered constantly about how he's fared since he's been out of rehab. I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

Now, if I can just remember to set the DVD in advance to record it while I'm out :wink: ...

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Just finished Out by Natsuo Kirino. This is her first book to be translated into English and it is quite amazing. A novel about life on the lower rungs of Japanese society--the female protagonists all work the night shift in a factory assembling boxed lunches--that depicts the daily grind of working class women in Japan and the criminal happenstance that allows some of them to get out of it.

Reading War Trash a novel by Ha Jin. It is a novel set in a South Korean POW camp in 1950 and depicts the plight of members of the People's Liberation Army who were taken prisoner in the South. Ha Jin's earlier novels have won a stack of awards--he writes in vivid and beautiful English, much like another favorite of mine who learned this language as an adult, Joseph Conrad.

Started Atonement by Ian McEwan, for no other reason than I thought I should read something by him. It is certainly well written but I am having trouble connecting with the characters--I keep thinking of characters from Jane Austen and the Brontes as I read it. :unsure:

Re-reading The Great Code: The Bible as Literature Northrup Frye's book on the cultural importance of the Old and New Testaments. One of the many books that I love and which I read again every five years or so.

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Ed, I don't know how far into Atonement you are, but stick with it. Don't worry about not connecting with the characters through the first third of the book. I don't think anyone does. That's perfectly fine for this book. I think you will like some of the other sections much, much better and they will be worth the wait. :unsure: The author knew what he was doing.

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Ed, we had a discussion about Atonement sometime back. I don't have time to look up the thread, hence can't warn you if it has any spoilers. You may or may not want to read it now, but know that it's there when you are done with the book. I agree that it is worth sticking with, and that things pull together more the more you get into it. They are deliberately murky at first.

As for me, I have just re-read The Gatekeepers, which is about college admissions at Wesleyan. Since Wes is on my DD's college list, and we visited there last spring, I thought it would be useful to reacquaint myself with this journalistic account. It was neither more nor less alarming and/or depressing than the first time around.

I am searching for a good read right about now -- something to entice me away from the computer, where I am spending far too much time playing word games :):unsure:

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Nick Hornby's "A Long Way Down" -- his writing just keeps getting better and better with each book. I find I'm trying to limit how much I read at each sit-down with this book, because I want to make it laaaast! The four characters are so real, their first-person narrative voices are all so distinct, and the storyline, though it could easily go maudlin, is funny and compelling all at once. (Four strangers cross paths atop a London apartment building one New Year's Eve, each intent upon leaping off because their respective lives suck.) Loving it!

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I assume that one ought to get ones teeth into something by Harold Pinter now.

I must confess that I still feel cheesed off after reading last year Nobel Prize winner, Elfriede Jelinek - she put me off reading anything for a veeery looong time.

By the way, anybody read anything by Orhan Pamuk, Turkish writer?

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