Thursday, May 1, 2008

Reading List: April 2008

There has been a severe lack of content on this site, much less than I had intended a few months ago. One of the things that I am going to endeavor to do is write reviews more often, though they will likely be less substantial than previous reviews. Perhaps a couple hundred of words apiece.

To report, in the month of April I managed to read 19 books, play, and graphic novels. Here is what they were:

1. The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca: If you take a passage on English, translate it to Spanish and then back again to English, all the nouns will be the same. But the verbs can change the meaning of the passage entirely. So when reading the lyrical drama of Lorca in English, something is truly lost. I found the symbolism in this play to be over the top, and the characterization screamed farce rather than tragedy. But the real reason this is considered a great play is the lyricism, and it just doesn't translate well. Reading Clive James over the past year, I've begun to think that perhaps it is time that I at least get my Spanish up to the functionally literate level so I can enjoy some of these writers in their native language.

2. 100 Bullets: The Hard Way by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso: The storyline really hits it
s stride here, and as more of the Minutemen are activated, I am getting a better idea of what is going on. I'm still haunted by something that happened, still sad. A lot of things happen that I wasn't expecting, and Risso's artwork captures the mood unlike any other artists I am familiar with. Often described as a noir tale, a description I feel is apt, I wonder why this is about the only noir that I really enjoy. As if I only enjoy derivations from the convention, not the convention itself.

3. The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh: though nowhere near as interesting as The Pillowman, McDonagh has written a genuinely entertaining and funny play. However, I hesitate that much more is going on than that. There is a bit about the nature of lying and telling stories, yet it sems to be a door that McDonagh opens but refuses to walk through.

4. Forged in Fire by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels: Extended comments available here.

5. Endgame by Samuel Beckett: I spent the month pondering the power of silence in the drama of Harold Pinter, and it is easy to see how he was influenced by Beckett in this play. Clov inflicts so much violence in his silences at the end of the play, it is a shame it is so overshadowed by the violent language that Hamm uses. I just don't think it is possible to fully understand the play though a mere reading, something I found a lot like Pinter as well.

6. The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco: Didn't really offer anything new or different from The Lesson, which was a better play even if I didn't enjoy it. Ionesco embraces absurdism to the point of near incoherence, something that makes him less accessible to readers than other absurdists.

7. The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder: I hated this play. Pirandello did the same thing first and better. I can't believe that the same person who wrote Our Town had a hand in this. And what kind of name is Thornton anyway?

8. The Night Country by Stewart O'Nan: An unsatisfying ghost story that broke several conventions but wasn't enough to salvage a fairly predictable narrative. O'Nan has been said to be the voice of the working class, but I didn't get a sense of that here. Perhaps I will try another of his books in the future; I do find myself with a certain professional interest in how he depicts the restaurant environment in Last Night at the Lobster. The narration is so specific that it goes to the point of distraction. Does it really matter which value meal a character orders from McDonald's? Or that a character eats a 'Nutrageous' rather than a candy bar? Just because something would be depicted specifically in another medium, say film, doesn't mean it needs to be so precise in prose.

9. 100 Bullets: Strychnine Lives by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso: This collection contains the most violent scene I have ever read in a comic. The overall story progresses nicely, and now that I realize only two following collections have been released thus far, I am trying to keep myself from reading them all at once.

10. The Best American Short Stories 2002 edited by Sue Miller: I'd already read the best story before (Richard Ford's 'Puppy'), but this was my first exposure to Jhumpa Lahiri whose story was fantastic. These collections are a nice way to be introduced to lesser known writers, or perhaps even famous ones who you just haven't had a cha
nce to read yet.

11. Amnesiascope by Steve Erickson: Erickson writes like a less talented and inspired Jonathan Lethem or David Foster Wallace. There is quite a bit of pornography as well, with passages being written for no reason other than to titillate. He gets a lot of praise, so I may take a look at the supposedly more mainstream Zeroville, but perhaps not.

12. Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan: A good, though not great, graphic novel from an Israeli creator. the storyline is something that we have seen before, but the characterization is well handled and the art really does evoke a different culture without descending into stereotypical depictions. I am very interested to see where this creator goes next.

13. A Burning House by Keith R.A. DeCandido: Though I have enjoyed the episodes of Star Trek that have focused on Klingon politics, their civilization as a whole seems to make no sense. DeCandido is able to write convincingly about a culture that is based entirely in honor, but even some of his inventions ring false. For example, a member of an opera chorus can challenge and kill one of the leads to take their place? A good novel overall though, and the conclusion of the Rodek storyline was well handled.

14. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams: A good and interesting memory play whose conceptual idea causes narrative problems. I'd like to go back and read this again with a better understanding of Williams's biography, especially the way he treats Laura who was modeled after his sister. Better than I remembered, but I don't thin
k this is a classic.

15. Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran by Danny Postel: A collection of Middle Eastern journalism and scholarly work that is most interesting with respect to the natural alliance between anti-imperialist Westerners and Iranian dissidents. Read more about it here.

16. The Shakespeare Wars by Ron Rosenbaum: I have a lot to say about this, so I will write a bigger review in the next couple of days. Brendan, this was the book I was referring to earlier.

17. Greatest DuckTales Stories, Volume 2 by Carl Barks: Barks is a genius. Not only are his stories entertaining for children and adults without pandering or offering some pat moral at the end, he changes the ways his characters are presented from panel to panel is vastly different ways, yet integrates it within the page in a way that is almost undecipherable unless you are looking for it. Barks has been the focus of a dedicated critical effort in the past few years, and it is easy to see why he deserves it.

18. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Not as good as Smoke and Mirrors, this collection still contains a few gems. I really enjoyed 'A Study in Emerald' and 'The Monarch of the Glen.' I had been told to pay special attention to 'The Problem with Susan,' but I must confess that while I found the story serviceable, my lack of any real knowledge of Narnia dampened its impact. Maybe I should go back and read the series, they sit on my shelves, but that type of writing just holds less and less appeal for me as time goes on.

19. A Good School by Richard Yates: Yates has a way of capturing the isolation that we all feel and articulating it in such a way that evokes the same emotions the characters feel in you. While I felt this was the least effective of his novels that I have read so far, it still is a testament to Yates's place as the most underappreciated writer of his generation.


Brendan Moody said...

I look forward to your comments on The Shakespeare Wars. When I read it last year, I enjoyed parts of it and found other parts rather dull-- I skimmed most of the last few chapters, as I recall.

My mom collects the Best American Short Stories anthologies, and I'm pretty sure I read all the 2002 stories, though only some of them are ringing bells at this late date. I thought the Chabon was effective in terms of its rather limited ambitions, adored the Doctorow (wish I could get into his novels), and also quite liked the Sharma, though I no longer remember why.

"The Problem of Susan" works best if you come to it with a knowledge of the problem in question, I think, and even then it's not really one of Gaiman's best.

I haven't read "The Glass Menagerie," but I did see a local version of it a few years ago. The audience kept laughing at lines that weren't jokes- especially the references to going to the movies. Irony and cynicism are everywhere, I guess.

steve-mollmann said...

I remember really liking The Glass Menagerie, but it was many years ago that I read it. The device of the projector screen has always fascinated me, but apparently it's not used much in actual productions. (I know it wasn't in the film.) The class I read it in was a good example of how not to teach something-- what earthly purpose does drawing the layout of the set as described in the stage directions serve? How is that going to get your students interested in the play?

Brendan Moody said...

The version of "The Glass Menagerie" I saw used the projector screen; I had assumed it was some gimmick of that production. Perhaps I should actually read these Williams plays of which I have seen adaptations...

Jon Polk said...

The projection screen wasn't even used in the original production, which Williams admitted was the correct choice, but since it was in his initial script he included it in the published one too.

His whole idea for the projection screen comes from Brecht, but in his plays it wasn't so intrusive as it was only used at the beginning of scenes. In my opinion, it's kind of a hokey device.