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Summer reading

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Re-reading Hugh Walpole's early novel 'Fortitude'. It was considered dated early on, but I've always loved it, and first read it when I was 8. There is Peter Westcott, from the abusive father in Cornwall, who goes to London and runs into things way to urban for him, even after he finds some success as a novelist. There are the boarding house people, then the posh Jerry Cardillac and Clare, Peter's sylphlike wife whom he cannot understand. Walpole was outmoded fairly early on, but had a few champions like T.S. Eliot, J.B. Priestley, and Virginia Woolf--fairly predictable group of supporters. I also like one of his Lake District books, 'Vanessa', although I've only read it once.

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I realized that if I am going to re-read all of Shakespeare's plays in the next however many years I have left to read it is time to get moving on them.

Most recently, Richard II. By the time that Bolingbroke has Richard cornered in Flint castle I was thinking that communication would work much better if we all spoke in iambic pentameter.

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I just finished Pride And Prejudice And Zombies. Funny but trippy. At times you could swear you were reading the beloved Austin novel until you read the next sentence where Elizabeth swings her sword and goes on to decapitate several brain eating zombies.

I did love the satire of some of the characters though. Lady Catherine becomes a feared and deadly zombie killer with a legion of Ninjas at her command while still retaining her snobby, proud and spiteful personality. Mr. Collins is still so self important, idiotic and ingratiating as to be completely oblivious to his new wife's Charlotte's transformation into a Zombie.

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My final read of the summer was Hans Hotter's "Memoirs", which was a perfect book to accompany two cycles (first and third) of Seattle Opera's production of "The Ring of the Nibelungen".

This volume is a translation and expansion of the German edition at the behest of the American publisher, who felt the original was missing the analysis that makes the English edition such a great read. It's a remarkable account of a career that spanned many decades, through the Weimar, Nazi, and post-War periods.

(Now back to thirtysomething Season One.)

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Earlier this summer I enjoyed reading Carlos Acosta’s memoir of growing up in the los Pinos district on the margins of Havana, "No Way Home," and now I’m reading "Arturo’s Island" by Elsa Morante (subject of Lily Tuck’s recent biography). Both books are about boys who lived on islands, had free rein of their childhoods, and lived in the shadow of their fathers' troublesome fascinations.

Acosta’s life was shaped by his father Pedro's stolen glimpse of a ballet in a cinema -- of a scene from a silent film where the women "spun around like Japanese parasols, elegant, delicate and light," and the men affected the walk of Charlie Chaplin. When the opportunity for Carlos to attend ballet presented itself, the image of the parasol ladies inexplicably came back to his father in a flash as the solution for Carlos’ future. “Your art is your house” -- go back to the ballet, Pedro says everytime Carlos tries to return home to his family and his old neighborhood.

It was in that little town of Los Pinos, surrounded by music, dominoes, rum, the smell of fruit, which impregnated the very fabric of our clothes and cancelled out all other odors, and the hooting of enchanted owls that I spent my childhood.

Arturo (“First of all, I’m proud of my name ... the name of a star ... and of a king”) grows up by himself on the dour island of Procida (“the shops are dark and sinister as robbers dens”) in the sea of Naples. He lives in an old house (“smells of the past owners floated out, mixed with things we’d collected like bits of rusty machinery, underwater plants and starfish that afterwards dried up or rotted in the drawers. Maybe this is why I’ve never been able to discover the smell of our rooms anywhere else ...”)

Arturo’s mother died at his birth and he lives with his father who disappears from Procida for months at a time.

My childhood is like a happy country, of which he is the absolute king... We must have looked like a funny pair to anyone who met us -- he walking resolutely along, like a ship in full sail, with his blond foreign look, his puffy lips and hard eyes that looked no one in the face ; and I tagging along behind, my dark eyes darting proudly right and left ...

“The Andulsian Shawl” is another perfect Elsa Morante account of boyhood, the story of Andrea, the son of a ballet dancer alienated from his mother by the ballet, which takes her away from him every night.

If the subject of the theatre or dancing or opera should come up, his eyes darkened, his brow was furrowed and the family saw a remarkable metamorphosis -- if was as if a dove or a cockerel had suddenly changed into an owl.

I also have Morante’s History on my list of books to read.

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