Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Leonard Bernstein: An American Life
(narrated by Susan Sarandon)
It's a bit trying to listen to a sequence of radio shows, because they repeat information from one episode to another, which undercuts the concision and directness I value. I learned some things about Bernstein's involvement in Tanglewood, from its founding in 1940, but this ended up being lighter fare than I'd hoped. Also, its presentation on the radio prevented it from telling the real dirt, so that LB is glossed as a bisexual (who did marry and have children). The best parts were little quotes from others, and the most memorable was Bobby McFerrin's claim that when he was trying to learn to conduct, Bernstein gave him the assurance that "It's all jazz."

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bellarosa Connection
(Saul Bellow, 2 cassettes)
An odd effort, from 1989, with some piercing thoughts about the Holocaust, a lot of fat woman jokes, and a variegated set of reflections on memory, as the narrator is ostensibly the wealthy founder of the Mnemosyne Institute.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

History of Ancient Israel
(Eric Cline, 7:37)
Not very satisfying, and I quit halfway through. The connections between Biblical texts and archeological data is quite tenuous. The lecture would have been more satisfying if it focused on what we know about the way of life, the political climate, etc. Instead, the lecturer tries futilely to align the scant evidence with the Bible. There's a passing reference to Biblical minimalism, which sounded reasonable to me, but was dismissed out of hand.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No one belongs here more than you
(Miranda July, 4:55)
I read these stories about 8 months ago, but when I had a chance to listen to them read by the author, I returned, and I enjoyed these even more this time round. "This Person" still remains this person's favorite, but it resembles the other stories, in their whimsical expression of life's small, terrible disappointments. The language is very fine; I can't shake the phrasing of a woman, 7 years into a stunted relationship, who describes a pattern as one that would "be in the 2nd grade by now if it were a person."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lovesick Blues: The life of Hank Williams
(Paul Hemphill, 8:29)
Hiram (Hank) Williams' sad life unfolds with lots of interesting revelations (although the author uses occasional awkwardly phrasing). After a harsh childhood, he married Audrey, the woman with a cold cold heart. When his son Hank Jr was born, his life temporarily looked up. 'The downside was this: Hank was so happy that he couldn't write a word.' (p79) Listen to Hank's carefree, arrogant phrasing when he would show up at the bank, "emptying pockets crammed with crumpled bills and personal checks onto the counter, telling the cashier, 'I make it, you count it.'"(p97). Although he was a binge drinker, he guarded his legacy by treating "the studio as his church, his laboratory, his one true friend.... Of the legions of Drunk Hank Stories, not one of them takes place anywhere near a recording session. The studio was sacrosanct." (p125) Toward the end of his life, he attached himself to the Carter family, and apparently fell for 17 year old Anita Carter. There's a duet he performed with her on the Kate Smith show (on youtube). As he went off the rails, he shot a pistol at his wife that hit within 6 inches of June Carter's head, causing her to temporarily lose her hearing. His life ended before he was 30, sick to death in the back of a car, en route to a show just after New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
(Haruki Murakami, 12:35)
A wide range of stories, including the early parable, Sharpie Cakes, which I recently heard him read in Japanese.. Temperamentally I think Murakami's appeal may be due to his mellow, humble, intelligent, aloof personality. In other words, someone utterly unlike me. I didn't greatly enjoy Kafka by the Shore, and this collection now dissuades me from my previous assumption that I prefer Murakami in shot glass sized short stories. I would give the Wind up bird or Norwegian Wood a spin, but I sense that this author (the most widely translated author in the world), is not aligned with my obsessions.

Monday, October 20, 2008

City Secrets: New York City
(Robert Kahn, 582pp)
A great resource (published in 2002). When I mentioned little finds that I encountered here to life-time New Yorkers, the nuggets surprised even them. I forgot to pack this when I last went to the City, and now it's time to return it to the library, but someday, I hope to find a copy for my own. Or better, I'll give a copy as a birthday gift to those I love who live in its environs.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A tranquil star: Unpublished Stories of Primo Levi
(Primo Levi, 3:54)
This was not the most promising place to start with an author's work, since it collects juvenilia and previously unpublished work. The stories that gripped me were about the War: the opening story describes two Jews who are being transported on a truck with a bunch of brutal Germans. Other stories, which I only skimmed, reminded me of the science-y fiction of Italo Calvino

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Last Night at the Lobster
(Stewart O'Nan, 3:50)
This short novel is pretty depressing, but mirrors the mood of the US economy at the present time. The writing and character development is engaging, even though the affective tone is a total downer. O'Nan does succeed in crafting a slightly bleary, but distinct, window on a bunch of people I would never know otherwise.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Brother Ray: Ray Charles' Own Story
(Ray Charles and David Ritz, 13:23)
This autobiography throws light on this musician's drive, discipline, and intense focus on maintaining his own autonomy. He writes frankly about his love of pussy, his enjoyment of heroin (and his refusal to ever claim it hurt him). About smack, he says the only thing he'll ever say to those angling for him to renounce it was that, when he was a child, he peed in his bed, but stopped when he saw how that ultimately made him more uncomfortable. He provides glimpses into his interesting mind and his austere life, devoted to music, pussy, and a little bit of other pleasures on the side. As commonly occurs to me after falling into a book, I now want to dive into his music to hear his true genius. I love his expression about music's individuality that it has to stink. (On p. 292: When I do a song, I must be able to make it stink in my own way; I want to foul it up so it reeks of my manure and no one else's.) Another Ray-ism is "nasty" as a superlative encomium (p137: The blues were brewing down there [in New Orleans in '53] and the stew was plenty nasty.)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Nabokov's Quartet
(Vladimir Nabokov, about 100pp)
The short stories were little confections. I read 3 out of 4, but skipped the one that was described in the intro as including an anagram in the last paragraph that spelled out the mystery. I enjoyed Lik the most, and noticed that the stories translated by Dmitri were not packed with obscure words that may well have been invented by the author.