Archive for October, 2010

September New Yorkers

September 6:  An armchair adventurer, I like to read about scary, far-away places (like Antarctica) and scary (hopefully far away) diseases and crimes.  In that context, the Letter from New Zealand, Mind Game by Carl Elliott was fascinating.  Peter Boyer’s The Covenant updates us on the stem  cell wars and gives good background for the continuing legal and political struggle over this issue.

September 13: Reading about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Tony McDermott’s The Mastermind is chilling, especially in that the so-called planner of 9/11 is not so much a religious fanatic as a juvenile delinquent in a state of arrested development. Violence matters, not ideas.  Blind ideology is frightening – random hatred and destruction is even worse.  More intriguing is The Uranium Widows by Peter Hessler about a planned uranium mill in Colorado and the surprising differences between supporters and enemies of the plan.  Former residents of Uravan, a uranium mining town that was closed, condemned and literally shredded and buried, gather annually for a picnic outside the fenced-off site of their former town.  They are philosophic about the dangers of uranium, supportive of the mill, and nostalgic for their town and the jobs they once had.

September 20: Well, I made it through the style issue; it wasn’t horrible, but was sadly lacking Patricia Marx. I skipped the article about J. Crew (life is too short) and skimmed the one about Tavi, the teen fashion blogger (she sounds like a good writer). The vacuum cleaner article was pretty good, as was the one about Facebook, but the must-read item for this issue is the short story, Birdsong by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The classic story of the young woman having an affair with an older, wealthy, (married) man was perfect. Something else was added from the setting of the Nigerian city of Lagos, about the way women are treated and how they are expected to act; about the lack of a social contract, that is, the assumption of civilized behavior from each other. In one aside she mentions a village boy who screams in shock when his lost wallet is actually returned to him! The girl’s hurt, bewilderment, anguish; her knowledge that she shouldn’t do what she is doing; her rebellion against all of it is spot on. Brava!

September 27:   The must read article in this issue is Jeffrey Toobin’s Without a Paddle about Justice Stephen Breyer.  As a nice addendum to this article, check out Breyer’s 2007 appearance on NPR’s Wait, Wait, don’t tell me. What a humane and charming fellow he seems to be!  I also enjoyed the review of Gatz, the staged reading of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby.” I am filled with regret that I did not devote six hours of my life to seeing the show when it was in Boston some months ago. If I truly cared about what I say I care about…I would have been there. This “improbable” hit show is now sold out on Broadway!


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The book is Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sara Houghtling, set in Paris  before and after WWII; the narrator is the son of a Jewish art dealer; and the tragedy is the looted paintings, many lost forever, in particular, standing in for the rest, “Almonds” by Manet.  Apparently the publicly owned treasures were protected by the armistice, but privately held works, especially when held by Jews, were free game for the Nazis, and left France by the trainload. The plot is garbled, even foolish in places, unearned sentiments crop up and annoy the reader, the passion is for the pictures and to explain what happened, but the desire is lost in meaningless plot twists and unconnected occurrences.  Bernard is a great character who could have been more fully-explored; his loss is a true tragedy.  Too much weight is placed on Rose, who is actually based on a real woman who tried to chronicle in secret the stolen artwork, yet her character doesn’t ring true. The narrator is likeable, his parents are believable, but the whole subplot of the missing sister is brought in too late to explain too much.  Paris is nicely rendered.  What I liked most, besides the reproductions of lost paintings, was the explanation of the title, of course, based on the piece by Mussorgsky, but who wrote it for the paintings of Victor Hartmann.  The painter died young and the paintings were lost, so the music is all that’s left – I never knew that. Finally, I liked her writing style and many of her characters; I kept feeling that there was a good novel somewhere in there but it was difficult to get at.  Once again, a writer failed by editors – too bad.

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