December 27, 2011

Wisdom, anyone?

I haven't been that high on a coffee table book in a long time. They're often heavy but thin, if you know what I mean. But this year I'm really enjoying WISDOM: The Greatest Gift One Generation can Give To Another, by Andrew Zuckerman. I was a bit worried when I cracked this tome open; the sap potential was high. I ordered it on a hunch, because I loved Zuckerman's book, Music.

But when I flipped it open I knew I was in for a fascinating read. The interviews are thoughtful and generous. This is a book to be savored. For generations.  I plan to gift it to my godchildren.  But this copy is going to be mine for a while before I let it out of my hands.

December 8, 2011

In Search of a Silent Night

Dreaded newscasts and endless loops of Christmas jingles (you know, that tinny, badly arranged, flat, featureless cacophony of sound) you hear in all the public places, has me longing for John Cage’s Silent Prayer, “a piece of uninterrupted silence” that he intended to sell to Muzak as “an attempt to break through the din of mid-century American culture . . . and to present the beauty that comes out of stillness.”

While Cage didn’t complete Silent Prayer, we do have 4’33" (that is four minutes and 33 seconds of an orchestra not playing anything).  
How much more delightful it was to sit after dinner and compile my winter reading list.  A few chocolates, glass of mulled wine and a CD playing 4’33”. Bliss.

To whit, the pile (you ask for it):

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe
Andrew O’Hagan
“Marilyn took me everywhere.  We had a lot of fun going up and down the avenues. . . . If she brought out the actor in me then it might be said that I brought out the philosopher in her.”
So the narrator Mafia Honey (Maf, for short), a Maltese terrier given to Marilyn Monroe in 1960 by her friend Frank Sinatra. 

Epitaphs to Remember: Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones
Janet Greene

This is a surprisingly funny little book comprised of over 200 inscriptions, dating from the seventeenth century to the mid-1950’s it offers a unique look at our culture’s perspective on life and death.  For those of us who’ve been known to traipse around old cemeteries on sunny afternoons, this book is a must-have.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
Jane Ziegelman

Jane Ziegelman set out to tell the remarkable true story of the Age of Migration in America from the intimate perspective (on the food prepared in the cramped kitchens) of five families of different ethnicity's-German, Irish, German Jewish, Russian-Lithuanian Jewish, and Italian-all occupied the same tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side sometime between 1863 and 1935.  This read will be a delectable combination of cultural and culinary history.

The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans
John Bailey

The Question of Sally’s identity and right to be free was brought to trial, ensnaring the best legal minds in Louisiana, the cream of New Orleans society, and the sizable German immigrant population.  Over the course of several months, the drama and tension generated by the case captivated the entire South.  This is a first-rate thriller, only more amazing for being true. 
Clive’s recommendation

The Gardens of Kyoto
Kate Walbert
“I had a cousin, Randall, killed on Iwo Jima. Have I told you?”

The story begins with Ellen’s affectionate relationship with her pensive cousin Randall, who, as a teenager, is killed in World War II.  Shortly after Ellen receives a package that includes the boy’s diary and his most treasured book, The Gardens of Kyoto. What she discovers within each volume affects her profoundly as she comes of age in 1950’s America.

Whether your holiday is Christmas, or another, or none at all, I have suggested for you the words—and the silences—that may bring you joy.

December 5, 2011

La Joueuse d'echec (Bertina Henrichs)

 & Queen to Play (Caroline Bottaro)

Bertina Henrichs, born in Frankfurt, has lived in France for over 15 years. Following studies in literature and cinema, she became a scriptwriter of documentaries and fiction. Her fascination for the light and colour of the Greek isles, which she's visited many times, makes for the great authenticity of the story. La Joueuse d'échecs, her first novel, was written directly in French. The author finds it a nice irony that her Sorbonne thesis was on the subject of writers who adopt a new language in exile!
Eleni is a chambermaid in a tourist hotel on the island of Naxos. Having reached her forties, her dreary life revolves almost solely around her work, the car mechanic husband she married at eighteen, her two adolescent children and a childhood friend. She finds her only place of freedom in the rooms she cleans every morning and in the objects she sees there through which she dreams of another life... One day by accident she knocks over a chess piece of a match in progress. And unexpectedly her life is turned upside down: to the great displeasure of her family and the dumbfounded inhabitants of the island, she develops a passion for this game. Little by little, Eleni grows ever closer to emancipation and self-awareness.  An unexpected portrait of an ordinary woman and a novel that could adapt beautifully to screen.

À propos-
Female liberation can take many forms, and the route Caroline Bottaro navigates in her debut directorial effort is Queen to Play . . . (Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline)
. . . from the obvious feminist fable it could have been, Bottaro managed one that is most subtle and evocative.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich