Books & More
"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."
— Joseph Addison
Thursday, April 17, 2014
By: Renato Castellani
If you already know everything about Verdi and his operas, check out Berlin Concert* instead. If not, you'll certainly enjoy this 4 disc set dramatizing the life and musical evolution of probably the world's most beloved opera composer. I already knew I loved the great Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, but what I didn't realize was the beauty of his lesser known works. I found myself checking out the library's many holdings: Simon Boccanegra, Luisa Miller, Nabucco, Un Ballo en Mascara; ones I had heard of but didn't know anything about. The choruses and, in particular, the male arias, were glorious. I was thrilled for 2 weeks, immersed in il maestro.
Yes, the dramatization is a bit corny and the dialogue stilted, but it puts Verdi in his historical framework and traces the germination and fruition of the music. You meet his librettists, his family life, his conductors, his friends and benefactors, as well as the Italian populace who adored him, making Giuseppe wealthy and successful in his lifetime.
*Berlin Concert is a wonderful filming of a live Placido Domingo et al. concert in Berlin's cavernous Waldbühne stadium. Placido aside (as if you could put him aside), the real star is Ronaldo Villazón, a young Mexican tenor, now a French citizen. His voice is stupendous, his face wonderfully expressive, and he brings the house down. This is an hour of pure ecstasy for the opera aficcionado.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Title: Letters from camp
By: Kate Klise
When three sets of brothers and sisters set foot at Camp Happy Harmony in Missouri, little do they realize that there’s more going on there than meets the eye. The camp is run by six siblings who, at one point, were a famous singing group— The Harmony Family Singers. At first, Charlotte, Charlie, Mimi, Ivan, Barbie Q, and Brisket are too busy fighting to notice that the Harmony siblings also are fighting with each other. Soon, though, the kids begin to realize something is terribly wrong at Camp Happy Harmony. There are strange chores, potentially poisonous food, cringe-worthy songs, incredibly bad fashion choices, and the murder plot of the camp postmaster. Can the kids stop fighting long enough to find out what’s really happening?
Told through letters, postcards, pictures and transcripts, Letters from Camp is a story about how important—or not important—your family can turn out to be. Welcome to Camp Happy Harmony !
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Lifting the burdens
Title: What it is like to go to war (audiobook)
By: Karl Marlantes
A work of courage and intelligence that challenges us to consider issues most of us would rather avoid. Karl Marlantes has thought deeply about the psychological impacts and lifelong burdens of killing in war, based on his experiences in Viet Nam and subsequent self-examination. He bravely exposes his own feelings of exhilaration in attacking, as well as the soul-numbing and shame he felt later.
Marlantes presents a critique of how our soldiers are trained to understand the concept and act of killing fellow humans. He makes suggestions to help them to better prepare for this tremendous moral responsibility and to deal with their emotions afterwards. He connects various aspects of serving in a war with mythic literature and Jungian archetypes, and argues for a spiritual warrior approach to killing. He does not imply that killing in war can or ever should be without emotional consequences for the warrior, but hopes to help future veterans heal and reintegrate into society more successfully than they have done in the past.
Bronson Pinchot does an excellent, nuanced reading. I felt he was speaking utterly sincerely, as if from his own experience.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Magic and loss, loneliness and escape
Title: The ocean at the end of the lane (audiobook)
By: Neil Gaiman
On impulse, I downloaded the new Neil Gaiman book from OneClick Digital onto my iPhone (ah, technology, you great multifaceted beast!). I was delighted to learn that the author was also the narrator, and this audiobook would not proffer any misrepresentations of tone or misinterpretations of characters. If anyone could get this right, it was Gaiman himself. My fears abated, I listened to a story of magic and loss, of loneliness and escape.
Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller, both in print and audio (he does some fantastic voices), and you can tell he really loves and understands his characters. Lettie Hempstock was my favorite: she was so wise and mysterious, just the kind of older kid you would've followed to the ends of the earth--or possibly into another dimension--to remove evil from this earth (no big deal). And the villain, one Ursula Monkton, is so vile, so nefarious, that you cannot imagine anything more horrifying to a seven year-old boy. It’s a quick read (listen), almost too short, and you’re left wanting more time with the characters. If you have a long drive coming up, I highly recommend the audiobook. But, if you prefer to provide your own voices, there’s nothing better than reading a SciFi book by Neil Gaiman.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Title: Claire of the sea light
By: Edwidge Danticat
I love the way Danticat starts this book by moving backwards in time, recounting each of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s* birthdays from age 7 to age 3 while simultaneously introducing the reader to some principal characters and ways of life in the town of Ville Rose. The book opens with Claire’s father, a widowed fisherman who wants to seek a better living elsewhere. He has decided to give his daughter to a woman who can take care of her. He has chosen Gaëlle, a person he thinks less likely to abuse his daughter as a restavek, a child sent to live with (“reste avec” in French) a household as a domestic servant--or slave.
The sea plays a major role in the lives and livelihoods of the residents and is ever present in the air, weather, stories and metaphors. In Claire’s voice: "Sometimes when she was lying on her back in the sea, her toes pointed, her hands facing down, her ears half-submerged, while she was listening to both the world above and the world beneath the water, she yearned for the warm salty water to be her mother’s body, the waves her mother’s heartbeat, the sunlight the tunnel that guided her out the day her mother died."
There is a strong backwards movement throughout the book, like an undertow. It would be interesting to draw the track of each story woven in; perhaps they would look like waves, surging in and rushing back from the beach as the tide changes. Danticat’s succinct prose captures many of the hard realities of life in Haiti while remaining alive to the beauty that is also present.
*Claire of the Sea Light (English) = Claire Limyè Lanmè (Kreyòl) = Claire Lumière La Mer (French)