Saturday, May 30, 2015

Romance in the Mountains

The CossacksThe Cossacks 
by Leo Tolstoy

"When he compared these people to himself, they seemed so strong, wonderful, and free that he felt ashamed and unhappy.  He often considered throwing everything to the wind and registering as a Cossack . . . But an inner voice told him to wait. . . He was held back by the thought that happiness lay in selflessness." (p 110)

This is the story of Olenin, a Romance in the mountains. Olenin, young, naive, and wealthy Russian goes to the Caucasus to fight with the Cossacks. Just as he leaves his home he leaves civilization behind for the romance in the mountains under the infinite and interesting sky. "The further Olenin traveled from the heart of Russia, the more distant all his memories seemed, and the nearer he drew to the Caucasus, the lighter his heart became." (p 13)

Olenin is a searcher, in one sense a distant relative of Pierre Bezukov and in another a stand-in for Tolstoy himself. In the story his identity becomes an issue for him to deal with as he tries unsuccessfully to become like the Cossacks as he joins their battle against the Chechens. Another young noble, Beletsky, joined them and lived a more carefree, even licentious, lifestyle. Yet the Cossacks "got used to him, and even liked him better than Olenin, who remained a mystery to them." (p 98)

Olenin would go off alone in the countryside to ponder life, and even has an epiphany that leads him to conclude, "I still have to live, have to be happy. Because there is only one thing I want--happiness . . . I still need to live the best way I can." (p 83) Even after this epiphany Olenin has difficulty acting in a way that truly leads him toward this "happiness" that he desires.  He also becomes enamored of a young girl, Maryanka, but is unsure of how to approach her and is unsuccessful in that pursuit.

As the Cossacks battle the Chechens with Olenin joining in the reader begins to wonder if he is really naive or simply superior (even if he is unwilling to admit that to himself). He demonstrates a sort of stoical selflessness that carries him on his journey; but he remains a class apart, out of his element and unable to reach his ultimate goal. He remains solitary, watching the others with a bemused air regarding everything around him. The story ends with Olenin still a Russian, unable to become a Cossack, yet unwilling to give up his dreams.

Tolstoy's writing in this novella is comparable to his great novels, in fact he began writing War and Peace immediately following this story. He achieves a feeling for the Cossacks that reminds me of that demonstrated by Gogol in his novella Taras Bulba. Finally, he explores the themes of love and death and the search for identity and meaning in one's life that the reader is accustomed to encounter in his novels and stories.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Two Sisters

Sense and Sensibility

A New Musical
book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon
directed by Barbara Gaines

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”   ― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

On last Wednesday I had the good fortune to attend a production of a new musical with some friends.  The production was by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the musical, based on a two hundred year-old novel, was Sense and Sensibility based on the novel by Jane Austen.
Austen wrote romantic novels and this is one of her best and the first with several to follow.  The musical followed the plot closely thus capturing the essence of the novel.  The story concerns two sisters:  Marianne Dashwood, the young, beautiful, passionate, and unreserved romantic;  and her older sister Elinor, prudent, pretty, and proper, with all the restraint of feelings of which Marianne had none. Their father dead, the sisters and their mother were about to be displaced from their childhood home of Norland by their half brother John, and his wife, Fanny.   He might have allowed the Dashwood sisters to remain at Norland, if only grudgingly, but his wife was determined to send them packing, especially once Elinor had begun a friendship with her brother Edward.  These characters are well-portrayed with music and songs by Paul Gordon (who has also written a musical based on Austen's novel Emma), somewhat reminiscent in tone to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber (a bit derivative to my mind, but no matter).  

The story continues with their removal to a cottage in Devonshire where Marianne falls in love with a young man named Willoughby.  On the other hand she is also pursued by a dashing young officer, Colonel Brandon.  The remainder of the story concerns the relationships of the two sisters and how the complexities of love that develop are resolved (if you haven't already, read the novel).
The singers were superb, the staging was delightfully minimalist (a rare treat for a Chicago Shakespeare production), and the direction was brisk and straightforward.  In other words, you could not ask for a more entertaining afternoon of musical theater.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stalin and the Cinematographer

The Commissariat of Enlightenment: A NovelThe Commissariat of Enlightenment: 
A Novel 
by Ken Kalfus

"Gribshin considered what he had just seen.  He knew it was important.  It belonged to the future, he was sure, but was it his future.  He too was pleased by the sound the lock made as it closed:  it was something predictive.  In the echoing tintinnabulation of the lock's components colliding hard against each other were conjured the sonances of rifle shots and beyond them smoky images of milling crowds.  The sounds and images vanished without revealing to Gribshin exactly what they promised." (p 10)

Tolstoy's demise in 1910 presents a career-launching opportunity for a young cinematographer who's beginning to understand the power of film to change or create political reality. The author of this novel, Ken Kalfus, links this death with that of Lenin - by imagining that three men attended both: an embalmer, a filmmaker and Stalin. The film maker's  knowledge comes in handy as Russia moves unsteadily from post revolution chaos toward the bureaucratic nightmare of the Soviet state.

Stalin promises that "the camera does not lie", but in a beautifully constructed scene, Kalfus demonstrates the opposite. Tolstoy has refused to see his wife. Gribshin knows that the public will demand a deathbed reconciliation between the great artist and the woman who bore his 13 children. So he films the countess entering the house where her husband is dying. There's a blackout. Then she leaves, her face contorted with sorrow. European, cinema audiences will be sophisticated enough to understand the blackout's implication: she has said her final farewell. In fact, she entered the house, turned on her heel and walked out again. Celebrity, propaganda, the mass media - it's all here in 1910.

The Commissariat of Enlightenment is one of the most powerful as the agency responsible for propaganda. The cinematographer's fate merges with that of Comrade Astapov, director of a massive Red agitprop campaign. People who choose to resist the commissariat include a church congregation that refuses to give up its faith, an experimental theater director, and a resilient young woman who makes an abstract, pornographic film in the name of sexual education for women. Kalfus recreates unforgettably the embalmer and scientist Vladimir Vorobev (who mummified Lenin), Joseph Stalin and Countess Tolstoy  who anchor the plethora of plot developments. 
This was a delightful surprise to read.  From the opening scenes at Leo Tolstoy's deathbed (and the surrounding media circus) to the rise of Stalin, Kalfus's blends carefully researched history, subtle social commentary and imaginative storytelling.  While the book required patience to read, it paid for that patience with a fascinating historical narrative of early twentieth-century Russia.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stranded on Mars

The MartianThe Martian 
by Andy Weir

"'They'll be happy to hear that their son's alive,'  Annie said.  'Yes, he's alive,' Teddy said.  'But if my math is right, he's doomed to starve to death before we can possible help him.  I'm not looking forward to the conversation.'" (p 58)

It has been almost three hundred years since Daniel Defoe's classic Robinson Crusoe was first published. And it has been almost sixty years since I first read and fell in love with that novel. Robinson Crusoe marked the beginning of realistic fiction as a literary genre. Its success led to many imitators, and castaway novels became quite popular in Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of these have fallen into obscurity, but some became established, including The Swiss Family Robinson.

Andy Weir's entertaining novel, The Martian, belongs, I believe, to this tradition. It is a story set in the not too distant future about an era of manned exploration of Mars by Americans. As the book opens one of the expeditions has just left Mars due to a severe dust storm, but they leave one astronaut behind presuming he is dead. It happens that he survives the accident and Mark Watney, botanist and mechanical engineer, is left stranded on Mars.

The remainder of the novel consists of Watney's journal where he shares his experiences trying to survive. Watney must rely on his scientific and technical skills, engaged in such tasks as growing potatoes in the crew's Martian habitat (or Hab) and burning hydrazine to make water. His log of experiences is originally intended for some future archaeologist who might discover it long after his death. Soon after he begins moving on Mars NASA discovers that Watney is alive through satellite images of the landing site that show evidence of his activities; they begin working on ways to rescue him, but withhold the news of his survival from the rest of the Ares 3 crew, on their way back to Earth aboard the Hermes spacecraft, so as not to distract them.

Watney undergoes many setbacks over the course of several months. The possibility of rescue creates suspense and makes the book more readable than the average space adventure. There are difficulties between NASA staff on Earth that also make the story more interesting. Ultimately, for this reader, there were one too many "cliff-hanger" type of episodes. However the book was entertaining science fiction and I heartily recommend it to all. 
There is also an interesting story in the publication history of the book. It was originally published serially for free on the author's website and then offered as a self-published ebook at Amazon. It was only after it became a best seller there that it was picked up by a mainline publisher for a substantial fee.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Links of Fate

The Forged CouponThe Forged Coupon 
by Leo Tolstoy

"Lying in the ditch, Stepan constantly saw before him the meek, thin, frightened face of Marya Semyonovna and heard her voice:  'Can it be?'--she said in her peculiar, he lisping, pitiful voice.  And Stepan would again live through all he had done to her.  And he became frightened, and closed his eyes and wagged his hairy head, so as to shake these thoughts and memories out of it."  -  Leo Tolstoy, "The Forged Coupon"

The stories of Leo Tolstoy are linked by what the French scholar and translator Michel Aucouturier calls Tolstoy's "gift of concrete realisation", and an ever-restless breed of philosophical inquiry – a combination that could produce works of an intensity that surprises even after repeated readings.
Tolstoy's greatest short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich revolves around the eponymous judge discovering, as he slowly, painfully expires, that his entire life has been a sham, built on bourgeois trivialities and bereft of love. Even at his end his family cannot comfort him – "he saw that no one would feel sorry for him, because no one even wanted to understand his situation" – leaving him to receive succor from Gerasim, the butler's helper. Tolstoy himself often contemplated suicide throughout the latter half of his life, but his fear of death was greater even than his suspicion of the meaninglessness of existence. It has been suggested that Tolstoy calmed himself by reading the Scriptures. Apprehending this adds another layer to the terrifyingly powerful climax of Ivan Ilyich, in which Ivan's rapture ("There was no more fear because there was no more death") does not convince, but jars against his earlier, terrible description of death as "that black sack into which an invisible, invincible force was pushing him".

Tolstoy's understanding of death, informed by his wartime experiences in Silistria and Crimea, seems to me unique in literature. Both visceral and meditative, it attains a sort of frozen horror when he describes the thought processes of serial killer Stepan in The Forged Coupon. This story is divided into two parts. In Part I, schoolboy Mitya is in desperate need of money to repay a debt, but his father angrily denies him assistance. Dejected, under the instigation of a friend Makhin, Mitya simply changes a 2.50 rouble bond coupon to read 12.50 roubles, but this one evil deed sets off a chain of events that affects the lives of dozens of others, when his one falsehood indirectly causes a man to murder a woman at the end of Part I, and then seek redemption through religion in Part II.

Having written the novella in his dying years, after his excommunication, Tolstoy relishes the chance to unveil the "pseudo-piety and hypocrisy of organized religion." Yet, he maintains an unwavering belief in man's capacity to find truth, so the story remains hopeful, especially in Part II, which shows that good works can affect another as in a domino effect, just as evil does in Part I. The depiction of Stepan is particularly fascinating as his character reminds the reader of other Tolstoyan characters who are changed by the power of scripture. His story and the fate of Mitya are keen moments in this set of chain-like stories.
The novella is sometimes translated with the title "The Counterfeit Note" or "The Forged Banknote." Whatever its name this is a powerful tale that features fascinating characters, each given a brief moment in the story, and a thought-provoking depiction of the power of fate.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015


Pelleas and Melisande

"The score of Pelleas and Melisande by Debussy, heralds that which will lift man from the earthly to the celestial, from the mortal to the immortal. Once again the ways of the artist and healer are merging."   -   Corinne Heline

Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80 is a suite derived from incidental music by Gabriel Fauré for Maurice Maeterlinck's play of the same name. 
Fauré wrote this music for the London production of the original drama by Maurice Maeterlinck in 1898. To meet the tight deadline of the production, Fauré reused some earlier music from incomplete works and enlisted the help of his pupil Charles Koechlin, who orchestrated the music. Fauré later constructed a four-movement suite from the original theatre music, orchestrating the concert version himself.  My favorite movement is the "Sicilienne" with its haunting melody that evokes the romantic mystery of music.  The movement although in the traditionally sad key of G minor, represents the one moment of happiness shared by Pelléas and Mélisande. 

The play that inspired Faure, Pelléas and Mélisande by Maurice Maeterlinck, is about the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters. It was first performed in 1893.  The work was very popular. It was adapted as an opera by the composer Claude Debussy, and in addition to Faure it inspired both Arnold Schoenberg and Jean Sibelius.  Faure was the first of the four composers to write music inspired by Maeterlinck's drama. Debussy, Schoenberg and Sibelius followed in the first decade of the 20th century.

Debussy's opera Pelléas et Mélisande contains five acts.  The French libretto was adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck's play and it premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 30 April 1902 with Jean Périer as Pelléas and Mary Garden as Mélisande in a performance conducted by André Messager, who was instrumental in getting the Opéra-Comique to stage the work. The only opera Debussy ever completed, it is considered a landmark in 20th-century music.  About the same time Arnold Schoenberg was composing a symphonic poem, Pelleas and Melisande, Op. 5, that he completed in February 1903. It was premiered on 25 January 1905 at the Musikverein in Vienna under the composer's direction .  The subject was suggested to him by Richard Strauss. When he began composing the work in 1902, Schoenberg was unaware that Claude Debussy's opera, also based on Maeterlinck's play, was about to premiere in Paris.

Jean Sibelius also wrote incidental music in ten parts in 1905 , for Maurice Maeterlinck's 1893 drama Pelléas et Mélisande. Sibelius later on slightly rearranged the music into a nine movement suite, published as Op. 46, which became one of his most popular concert works.
While Maeterlink won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911 his symbolist plays are not as popular today.  His masterpiece Pelleas and Melisande lives on more through the music it inspired. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Dreams and Reality

Night Games: And Other Stories and NovellasNight Games: And Other Stories and Novellas 
by Arthur Schnitzler

"Dream and waking, truth and lie flow into one another.  Safety is nowhere."  - Arthur Schnitzler, Paracelsus

A fairy tale, a dream, a nightmare. The opening of Dream Story begins with the innocence of a young girl reading a fairy tale.  However, the narrative almost immediately drifts into a not so innocent glance (look) between the girl's parents. Suddenly they are remembering a masquerade ball and the reader is drawn into the parents' world where reality is like a dream and "truth and lie flow into one another".

Dream Story narrates the emotional life of a a couple, Fridolin and Albertine, who are living banal lives where the hours fly "by soberly in predetermined daily routines and work"; he as a doctor and she as a mother with "household and motherly duties" that prevent her from staying in bed any longer than her husband. They have just attended the first masquerade ball of the season (it is just before the end of the Carnival season) and they even found that strangely unexciting, that is until their return home when they were oddly moved to "lovemaking more ardent than they had experienced for a long time."

As the story continues, Albertine confesses that the previous summer, while they were on vacation in Denmark, she had had a sexual fantasy about a young Danish military officer. Fridolin then admits that during that same vacation he had been attracted to a young girl on the beach. Later that night, Fridolin is called to the deathbed of an important patient. Finding the man dead, he is shocked when the man’s daughter, Marianne, professes her love to him. The scene grows darker as a restless Fridolin leaves and begins to walk the streets. Although tempted, he refuses the offer of a young prostitute named Mizzi; however he meets an old friend Nachtigall, who tells him that he will be playing piano at a secret high-society sex orgy that night. Intrigued, Fridolin procures a mask and costume and follows Nachtigall to the party at a private residence. Inside, Fridolin is shocked as several men in masks and costumes and naked women with only masks are engaged in various sexual activities. When a young woman surreptitiously warns him to leave, Fridolin ignores her plea and is soon exposed as an interloper. The woman then announces to the gathering that she will sacrifice herself for Fridolin, thus he is allowed to leave.

Upon his return home, Albertine awakens and describes to him a dream she has had: while making love to the Danish officer from her sexual fantasies, she had watched without sympathy as Fridolin was tortured and crucified before her eyes. Fridolin is outraged, as he believes that this proves his wife wants to betray him. He decides to continue own sexual temptations. The next day, Fridolin learns that Nachtigall has been taken away by two mysterious men. He then goes to the costume shop to return his costume and discovers that the shop-owner is prostituting his teenage daughter to various men. He finds his way back to where he had been the night before; but is handed a note addressed to him by name that warns him to not pursue the matter. He then visits Marianne, but she is no longer interested in him. He also searches for Mizzi, the prostitute, but is unable to find her.
He reads that a young woman has been poisoned. Suspecting that she is the woman who sacrificed herself for him, he views the woman’s corpse in the morgue but is unable to identify it. Returning home that night, Fridolin finds his wife asleep, with his mask from the previous night set on the pillow on his side of the bed. When she wakes, Fridolin confesses all of his activities. After listening quietly, Albertine comforts him and they greet the new day with their daughter.

This story, psychological in nature, focuses on the inner desires and fantasies of a married couple. Themes of fidelity and infidelity, jealousy, and guilt are depicted while the couple copes with feelings of insecurity, betrayal, and resentment. More important in my estimation is the blurring of dream and reality. Fridolin's "real" adventure seems to become more unreal once he leaves and returns, while Albertine's dream has both connections with and an impact upon reality that transcends her irrational dream world. Schnitzler effectively blurs the line between reality and fantasy in the story; at the end, Fridolin and Albertina agree that no dream is ever entirely unreal, and that reality does not encompass the entirety of an individual life. It is not surprising that Arthur Schnitzler was considered one of the best portrayers of the Freudian point of view in literature.

Some critics also suggest that the novella underscores the tensions between duty and desire through both Fridolin and Albertine’s temptation to sacrifice family and marital stability in pursuit of sexual fantasies. One cannot escape the image of death as a theme of Dream Story, with the scene of the dead woman who may have sacrificed her life for Fridolin. Finally, I was impressed with the tautness of this novella as its themes were integrated within the story both symbolically and structurally.  I should add that Schnitzler's novella was the source of Stanley Kubrick's 1999 film, "Eyes Wide Shut".

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Friday, May 08, 2015

An Officer's Mistake

Beware of PityBeware of Pity 
by Stefan Zweig

"One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart's impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another's unhappiness, that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one's own soul against the sufferings of another;  and the other, the only kind that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond." (p 192)

This is a curious novel from the pen of Stefan Zweig who tells the story of a young Austrian cavalry officer, Anton Hofmiller, who befriends a local millionaire, Kekesfalva, and his family, but in particular the old man's crippled daughter, Edith, with terrible consequences.  Stefan Zweig was a prolific biographer, short story writer, and is noted today mainly for his autobiography, The World of Yesterday.

Before the First World War, Anton Hofmiller, a young Austrian officer from a modest background, finds himself stationed in a town where he knows few people. He obtains an invitation to the home of the richest local family and, at the end of the evening, realizes he has not spent time with their attractive daughter, Edith. He invites her to dance, but realizes – to everyone’s horror – that she is sitting in a wheelchair and can’t even stand. This, he believes, is the worst faux pas imaginable, and he flees. But he is given another chance, which he eagerly accepts. To be nice he starts spending more and more time with the family, focusing on Edith, keeping her company – keeping himself company too. The relationship between them seems almost balanced at first. She’s sweet, if a bit over-eager for his attention. It is the father, though, who compels Hofmiller to involve himself more, to help find treatment for her condition, to lie to her about its effectiveness, to let her believe she has a chance of recovery. It’s all, of course, in the name of keeping her happy. Hofmiller’s eagerness to please, Edith’s father’s eagerness to please – beyond what is practical or real – subtly becomes a ticking bomb of anxiety. Where it naturally leads is to Hofmiller’s proposal of marriage. A good soldier, he will do everything he can but the denouement is devastating for Edith and Hofmiller goes off to war.

The message of the book is not only the ostensible one – that pity is an emotion that can cause great ruin – but also that we must not judge things by appearances. This is a lesson that the narrator has learned and the reader can appreciate from his experience reading this magnificent novel.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Idea of Hero-Worship

On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in HistoryOn Heroes, Hero-Worship, 
and the Heroic in History 
by Thomas Carlyle

“There needs not a great soul to make a hero; there needs a god-created soul which will be true to its origin; that will be a great soul!”   ― Thomas Carlyle

In May, 1840, Thomas Carlyle gave a series of six lectures on Heroes in History. These lectures were subsequently published under the title On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. In these lectures Carlyle discusses and defends his concept of the great man, or the divinely inspired, unpredictable hero. The breadth of his examples from Odin and Mahomet (Mohammed) to Shakespeare and Dante, and Napoleon among others provides an idea of the scope of his presentation. These are not all heroes in the sense that the concept of hero, if it exists at all, is considered today. But that is one of the best aspects of these lectures for they challenge the twenty-first century reader to think about the nature of the hero and heroism and what it might mean to worship a hero.

Certainly Carlyle's heroes seem arbitrary and perhaps a bit odd: Odin, Mahomet, Dante, Shakespeare, Luther, John Knox, Samuel Johnson, Rousseau, Robert Burns, Cromwell, and Napoleon. In my reading I found no philosophic basis that linked these men together and while divinity links several, that idea does not explain the poets or military leaders. Most are presented as men who rose from humble beginnings to reach great achievements; but they do not all share this characteristic. Certainly they all had a great impact on the history of mankind, but even here it is hard to compare a Napoleon with a Knox or a Shakespeare with Mahomet. Carlyle does claim that a sort of sincerity and originality are components of the actions and thoughts of all of these men.
"But of a Great Man especially, of him I will venture to assert that it is incredible that he should have been other than true. . . what I call a sincere man. I should say sincerity, a deep, great, genuine sincerity, is the first characteristic of all men in any way heroic. . . Such sincerity, as we named it, has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature's own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as to nothing else;" (The Hero as Prophet)

But is Sincerity enough? Not for the Poet, for he is also "a heroic figure belonging to all ages; whom all ages possess, when once he is produced, whom the newest age as the oldest may produce;"
In our culture hero-worshiping has declined, seemingly replaced with the pursuit of mentors, leaders, and role-models. The heroes that Carlyle describes may be these things, but they are larger than life idols whose thought and actions span across the ages. Carlyle relies on a degree of divine inspiration that also has declined since Nietzsche's declaration of the death of god. Carlyle may have anticipated this in his declaration that no new religions would be formed. Unfortunately he did not anticipate secular religions like Communism and Fascism.

Choosing political leaders like Cromwell and Napoleon, Carlyle raises questions about his idea of goodness. He seems carried away with his enthusiasm for these heroes and all too willing to brush over their flaws. His hero had to be absolute; or rather, if Carlyle found him "sincere" he forgave him everything. It is thinking like this that has given Carlyle a bad name in an era that has seen absolute power lead to the death of millions. Carlyle was not a philosopher, he rather relied on a sort of common sense. This included a belief that in our hearts we know what is good. But good men may disagree, and the struggle between good and evil requires more rigorous thinking.
In our era where egalitarianism is worshiped to excess, or at least to the extent that it can inhibit individual thought, Carlyle's views on the heroic and its worship seem out of date at best. Reading his lectures, however, provides an opportunity to think about the issues of heroism and the goodness (or lack thereof) of great men. He challenges some of the ideas that are accepted as truths in our culture and I found my thinking strengthened by the challenge.

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Monday, May 04, 2015

Reading Plans

A Forward Look:  Summer Reading

Last November I listed the books I planned to read over the Winter months.  I believe Winter may have ended, it was almost 80 degrees yesterday, and it is time to look backward and forward over my reading list.  It is difficult to predict everything I am going to read beyond the current week or two, but I did a pretty good job in November.  Of the top ten books I planned to read I read all but three.  Of those three I read most of two of them;  both were longish biographies and I may finish them someday.  In the meantime I read two of the books that were on my supplemental list and several others that were not on my tbr radar in November.  It is now the first week of May and I have some ideas about the Summer that will surely change over the next few months, but in spite of that I will attempt a list of planned books to read over the coming months.

1. The Cossacks by Leo Tolstoy:  I am still reading Tolstoy after a winter filled with his stories long and short.

2. The Martian by Andy Weir:  This is for my SF book group and since the Martian is really an American stuck on Mars  I'm pretty sure I am going to enjoy it.

3. The Nibelungenlied:  This is an epic by anonymous about heroes (see the note about Thomas Carlyle below) and I was inspired to read it by the review at The Consolation of Reading.

4. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok and Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe:  These are both for our Thursday evening book group.

5. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka:  I discovered this book listening to NPR and I should have read it last summer, so it is now on this year's list.

6. Mussorgsky and His Circle by Stephen Walsh:  I love music and this book should expand my familiarity with all the Russian composers of the nineteenth century who aren't named Tchaikovsky.

7. Snopes by William Faulkner.  I plan to reread this for a class at the University of Chicago.  I can't wait to revisit Eula Snopes and her clan.

8. Paradise Lost by John Milton:  This is scheduled for our study group discussion in August.  I am just finishing Thomas Carlyle's On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (read for the same group)  and expect to publish my comments about it in the near future.

9. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan:  I recently acquired the paperback edition of this Booker Prize winner and hope that it is as good as his Gould's Book of Fish.  It may help me stay cool during the heat of the Summer.

10. The Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man by Thomas Mann:   Along with Tolstoy I have been reading many of Mann's short novels and stories and this is a final dolop for early Summer. 

Some other tbr books that are not in the top ten may include:  A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan,  Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos, Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder, and  Europa by Tim Parks.