Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Words Of Wisdom From A Guy With Whom I Generally Disagree

I am stealing this link from my friend, Catch Her In the Wry. Ron Paul is a libertarian and has many good ideas, but, generally, I think he is a nut. But there is nothing nutty about what he says here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

All You Ever Wanted (Or Needed) To Know About Alaska

AlaskaAlaska by James A. Michener

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is my second Michener book after shying away from him for years and years because of his reputation.  Now, I find myself enjoying the books for all the knowledge I get in very palatable form.  As in the earlier book of Michener's that I read, "The Source," he starts with prehistoric times, and then mixes stories with facts to give a complete history of the place.  It's not a great work of literature, some of the stories are too cheesy.  But without this book, I would never have bothered to learn much about Alaska beyond what has been in the news the last two years about its flaky former governor.  The book is more than 1,000 pages long, but if you take it in little bites (it took me almost four months to finish it,) it's worth the effort.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Obed Report: Grandson Number One is Here!

Not all newborn babies are cute. I'm so glad that we were lucky enough to get a cute one. Obed arrived yesterday morning at 12:49 a.m., missing by 50 minutes our hope that he would be born on 10-20-2010. He is a biggie -- 9 pounds, 6 ounces and 21 inches long. He was about three weeks overdue, which I think accounts for his size and alertness. He looks like he is well aware of what is going on and is taking it all in.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Obed Report: Still Waiting

So, The Wife and I are in New York this week, awaiting the arrival of Grandson Number One, Obed Henry Otto. He was due October 1, but he is following the example of several relatives (not me) who tend to be late. Yesterday, we spent most of the day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (yes, I, too, thought it was Botanical Gardens, because that would make sense, but it's not.) The weather was perfect yesterday and today.
Today, we went to Manhattan and walked around the Union Square area. The specific errand was to go to the Farmer's Market, but an added benefit to going anywhere in New York City is to watch the people. This is a libertarian's paradise. Anything goes, from a man, clothed only in a hat, shoes, socks and a placard (in front; nothing but the cool Manhattan breeze in the back) reminding people to remember Eric Williamson to a poor ex-(we hope)prostitute, just trying to get some donations in order to stay ex-. You don't know who Eric Williamson is? I didn't either, until I googled him and found these stories,here, here, and here.

The picture of the ex-prostitute flatters her. Forgive Crockhead for being cynical, but despite the man talking to her, business could not have been booming before she decided to rehabilitate herself. She probably needs better advertising. Maybe some flyers promoting a going-out-of-business sale would attract some better heeled customers.

Friday, October 01, 2010

JACK Report: Sold Out in Germany

Here, courtesy of Google translate, is a German newspaper account of a festival in Germany where JACK will be playing in two weeks. As best as I can make out, there are no more tickets available, not even for standing. Woo Hoo!

"Four wins at the Music Days 2010
Von Schwarzwälder-Bote, aktualisiert am 01.10.2010 um 22:31 From black-Bote, updated on 01.10.2010 22:31

Von Steffen Maier Steffen Maier

Donaueschingen. Donaueschingen. Viele sagen ihm jetzt "Mensch, Georg, das ist ja super", aber dem Georg, dem ist derzeit alles andere als super zumute. Many say it now "Hey, George, that's great," but the George, which is currently anything but super mood. Georg Riedmann sitzt an seinem Schreibtisch im Kulturamt, vor sich den Computer, schaut auf die vielen E-Mails, die meisten davon drehen sich um ein Thema: Die Absender wollen, möchten, brauchen unbedingt noch Karten für die Donaueschinger Musiktage, die Stadt in zwei Wochen zusammen mit der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde und dem Südwestrundfunk wieder auf die Beine stellt. Georg Riedmann sits at his desk in the Department of Culture, in front of the computer looks at the many e-mails that turn most of it is an issue: The sender will want, really need any tickets for the Donaueschingen Music Festival, the city in two weeks along with the Friends of Music Society and the South-West Radio is back on its feet. Aber es gibt keine Karten mehr. But there are no more tickets. Und das ist ja eigentliche eine gute Nachricht. And that's real good news.

Streng besehen sind schon mehr Karten weg, als Plätze in den Spielstätten vorhanden sind – im Flugzeug würde man sagen: die Musiktage sind überbucht. Strictly inspect even more cards away, as space is available in the venues - would tell you on the plane: the music days are overbooked. Nur dass in Donaueschingen kein Ersatzflieger bereit steht. Except that no replacement ready in Donaueschingen fliers. Wer zuerst kommt, darf auf Stühlen sitzen, viele müssen aber auch auf Hallenböden Platz nehmen oder während der Konzerte stehen. First come, must sit on chairs, many must also take place on indoor surfaces or stand during concerts.

Und genau das bereitet Georg Riedmann, dem Kulturamtsleiter einige Sorgen. And that's what prepares Georg Riedmann, the culture department head a few worries. Was, wenn etwas passiert? What if something happens? Aber Neue-Musik-Fans sind ja zum Glück kultivierte Menschen mit Anstand und Niveau, die Musiktage sind ja auch kein Massen-Rock-Konzert unter freiem Himmel, da wird schon alles gut gehen. But new music fans are fortunately cultured people with dignity and class, the music days are not much of a mass rock concert under the stars, as even all will be well.

Musiktage: Worüber viele Donaueschinger den Kopf schütteln, weil sie mit den Klängen der Musiker so rein gar nichts anfangen können, ist bei Liebhabern aus aller Welt beliebt und angesagt. Music Festival: Shake What many Donaueschingen head because, with the sounds of music as pure can start anything, is in its devotees from all over the world, popular and fashionable. Der Termin des seit 1921 in Donaueschingen stattfindenden und weltweit bedeutendsten Festivals für Neue Musik ist ein Muss in der Kenner-Szene. The date of 1921 in Donaueschingen taking place and the world's most important festivals for contemporary music is a must for the connoisseur scene.

Im Zentrum der diesjährigen Auflage steht das Streichquartett. In the center of this year's edition is the string quartet. Herzstück des Programms ist die Quardittiade am Samstag: Mit dem "Arditti Quartet" aus London, dem "Quatuor Diotima" aus Paris und dem "JACK Quartet" aus New York treffen Streichquartette dreier Generationen und Interpretationskulturen aufeinander. The heart of the program is to Quardittiade on Saturday: "Arditti Quartet" By from London, the "Quatuor Diotima" from Paris and the JACK Quartet from New York to meet one another string of three generations and cultures interpretation. Die Musiker haben einen Marathon vor sich: Jedes Quartett spielt sein Konzert an diesem Tag drei Mal, wechselnd im Strawinsky-Saal der Donauhallen, in der Christuskirche und in der Erich-Kästner-Halle. The musicians have a marathon itself: each quartet will perform his concert on that day three times, alternating in the Stravinsky Hall of the Danube halls, in the Christ Church and the Erich-Kästner-Hall.

Diese "Quardittiade" ist nach der "Ensembliade" 2008 und dem Schwerpunkt Sinfonieorchester 2009 der dritte und abschließende Teil des von der Ernst von Siemens-Stiftung geförderten Trilogie-Projekts zu instrumentalen Gattungen. This "Quardittiade" after the "Ensembliade" 2008 and 2009, the focus Sinfonieorchester third and final part of the instrumental from the Ernst von Siemens Foundation funded project trilogy genera. Diese Siemens-Förderung – satte 110 000 Euro in den vergangenen beiden und in diesem Jahr –ist damit erst einmal beendet. This Siemens Promotion - whopping 110 000 euros in the past two and this year is terminated for the first time. Finanziell gesichert sind die Musiktage dennoch: Weiterhin wird die Kulturstiftung des Bundes das Festival mit alljährlich 210 000 Euro unterstützen, für die Siemens-Stiftung springt ab dem nächsten Jahr das Land Baden-Württemberg ein, zusätzliche Gelder kommen vom SWR und der Stadt Donaueschingen. backed financially the music days are yet, is further support the Federal Cultural Foundation, the festival each year of 210 000 €, for the Siemens Foundation jumps in from next year, the state of Baden-Württemberg, additional funds come from the SWR and the city of Donaueschingen.

Neben den Konzerten sind in diesem Jahr auch wieder Klangkunst-Objekte Teil der Musiktage – wenn auch nur zwei, im Spiegelsaal des Museums Biedermann und bei Häring in der Josefstraße. In addition to the concerts this year again sound art objects of the music days - even if only two, in the Mirror Hall of the museum and Biedermann, Josef Haring Street. Insbesondere die Installation "Salon Q – Übungen mit Bögen, Haaren, Wangen, Wirbeln, Schnecken" von Georg Nussbaumer (Häring) soll das Schwerpunktthema Streichquartett klangkünstlerisch aufarbeiten. In particular, the installation "Salon Q - Exercises with bows, hair, cheeks, vertebrae, worm" by Georg Nussbaumer (Haring) avoid becoming the main topic string quartet sounded artistically.

Ebenso wieder Teil des Festivals sind die Donaueschinger. Similarly, again part of the festival are the Donaueschingen. War es vor zwei Jahren ein Müllwagen, hinter dem die Stadtkapelle durch die Karlstraße zog, so geben am Musiktage-Sonntag Schüler der Erich-Kästner-Schule unter der Anleitung von Christoph Hutter und Bernhard Rißmann um 15 Uhr ein Konzert in der Kästner-Halle mit selbstgebastelten Instrumenten. Was it two years ago, a garbage truck, behind which drew the chapel by the Charles street, so be on music day Sunday school of the Erich-Kästner-school under the guidance of Christoph Hutter and Bernhard Rißmann by 15 clock a concert at the Kästner-hall self-made instruments. Darauf folgt dann noch das Abschlusskonzert um 17 Uhr im Mozart-Saal der Donauhallen "Orchester, Streichquartett, Zwölftonpianos". This is followed then the final concert by 17 clock in the Mozart Hall of the Danube halls "orchestra, string quartet, Zwölftonpianos. Und dann werden die Musiktage 2010 schon wieder Geschichte sein. And then the Music Days 2010 will again be history. Und wenn alles gut gelaufen ist, dann ist auch Georg Riedmann wieder super zumute. And if everything went well, then Georg Riedmann is again felt great.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book report" "The Castle In The Woods" by Norman Mailer

The Castle in the Forest: A NovelThe Castle in the Forest: A Novel by Norman Mailer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Norman Mailer, at the top of his game, is really good.  The problem with Norman Mailer is that for too many years he was his own biggest fan. It took him 10 years to get this one written, but it was worth waiting for.



The form of the book is a study of the young and adolescent Hitler and his family, as narrated by a demon assigned by "The Maestro," to make him really evil.  But the book really is a religious meditation on the nature of good and evil, the struggle between "The Maestro" (the devil) and "The Dumkopf" (God) and the extent to which our fates are determined by ourselves and forces external to ourselves.



Mailer never forgets in this book that the purpose of a novel is to tell a story, and tell a story he does, in all its unsavory details.  This is not a book for persons easily offended.  It is a book for persons who enjoy a well-told story.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

JACK Report: You Can't Buy Better Publicity Than A Feature in the New York Times

Son Number Two and fellow violinist playing with JACK

I've been eagerly checking Google for a week now, looking for the feature I knew was coming in the New York Times about JACK Quartet, the group of talented young musicians of which Son Number Two is a part. I usually go buy several of the newspapers when they run a review of JACK, which they frequently do, just for the archives. Finally, last night, the article showed up on-line. But, alas, the print version was published the day before, on Thursday, and all of those papers are off the shelves. I am tempted to go to the library and smuggle a copy out in my briefcase. Read the article here. It is very flattering and it even mentions the expected arrival of my new grandson in several weeks. The photographs are from the NYT and hopefully this acknowledgment gives me permission to post them. If not, and the Times notices, I may have to take them down.

JACK Quartet at The Stone in NYC several weeks ago
 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Report: "Deception," by Philip Roth

DeceptionDeception by Philip Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Philip Roth is a good writer, and I'm sure from a technical standpoint this is an excellent book. But as a nonacademic, the post-modernist structure of this book gets to be a bit much.

The book purports to be a series of conversations between an author, named Philip; an English woman who may or may not have been his mistress, a Czechoslovakian woman who may or may not have been a prostitute, and Philip's wife. The wife discovers the book and is convinced it describes actual affairs Philip has had, although he denies that they occurred anywhere except in his mind. After the confrontation with the wife, the conversations go back to the English woman and Philip discussing what he told the wife. The book leaves the reader to form his own opinion about whether any of the conversations actually occurred or are made up in Philip Roth's head.

I can take a little post-modernism, but by the end of this book, I was longing for just a straight forward story by an author who doesn't insert himself into the middle of it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Insincere bigotry

This is the best discussion I have seen anywhere on the gay marriage debate, and how the evidence in the recent California trial should shut up any reasonable opponent of gay marriage. The post is called Insincere bigotry and is published on a blog called slacktivist

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Report: "Zeitoun," by Dave Eggers

ZeitounZeitoun by Dave Eggers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Don't read this book if you don't want to be upset by the U.S. government. This is a nonfiction book in which Eggers follows what happened to a Muslim family in New Orleans before, during and after the Katrina Hurricane. The husband, a building contractor, insisted on staying in New Orleans during the storm, sending his wife and children to stay with relatives in Baton Rouge. He was well-prepared and in the immediate aftermath of the storm, he was able to assist many people and animals with a canoe he owned. A week later, however, after National Guard and police from other places were sent in to maintain "order," things turned chaotic for him. He wound up getting arrested in his own home, held in a Guantanamo-style cage for several days and then put in a prison. He was not permitted to call his family nor a lawyer; he was not told the charges against him, and he was held without access to even a judge for three weeks before he was released.

Eggers is an excellent writer and this book contains no hint of the self-importance that turned me off about his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This book actually is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and it's not about Eggers.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Book Report: "Letting Go," by Philip Roth

Letting GoLetting Go by Philip Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is another extraordinary Roth book. He excels at showing, not telling. It is a psychological study, in the Henry James tradition (from what I've been told about Henry James, I haven't read much of him,)set in Chicago, mostly, about a trio of young people who become involved with each other while at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and then wind up teaching at the University of Chicago. As always in Roth, being Jewish, is a big part of the book. What I like about Roth is he describes situations and conversations and let's the reader figure out motivations rather than spelling them out. The book is a little short on plot, but very interesting.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

And Now For A Moment of Truth

A friend of mine sent me this by email. It's probably all over the internet, but it's too good not to use.










Life can be summarized in 4 bottles....












S**t!!! we're on #3!



.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Report: "Generosity" by Richard Powers

Generosity: An EnhancementGenerosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is one of those rare books to which I award more than five stars. It is a tour de force by the smartest man I know. Powers has almost created his own genre, an in-depth exploration of neurological puzzles in a way that is very understandable and readable by a lay audience.

In Generosity, Powers explores the extent to which emotions are controlled by genes. A young woman from Algeria is in Chicago, taking a night class in writing and entrances the teacher and the class with her constantly sunny outlook on life despite hardships that would cause normal people to despair. Eventually her genome is mapped by an entrepreneurial scientist who claims to have isolated a "happiness" gene. Who this person is turns out to be way more complicated than her genes, and Powers does a great job of explaining the nature/nurture duality of all of us.

For someone not used to post-modernist literature, Powers's style might take some getting used to. He inserts himself, as the author, into the book, repeatedly reminding the reader that this is a story that Powers is making up, as he goes. Powers starts the book by sketching the writing instructor stating right up front that "I picture him in the . . . " later saying, "The blank page is patient, and meaning can wait. I watch until he solidifies." At another point, describing a lunch between the instructor and a psychologist who becomes his girlfriend, Powers comments, "Over date pudding, she tells him about negativity bias. I'm not really sure if she tells him this over date pudding, of course, or even if she tells him at this lunch at all. But she tells him at some point, early on. That much is nonfiction: no creation necessary." At another point he writes, "And, by a minor coincidence I don't know how to handle any other way, Candace Weld reads the Time article. . . ."

Although I don't usually like an author to act all authorly in his writing, I don't find Powers's playing around with the third wall as irritating as I might in a lesser writer. Or maybe I'm just prejudiced. In any event, read this book. Even if you're irritated at the tricks, you won't be bored.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Book Report: Anne Tyler Does It Again with "Noah's Compass"

Noah's CompassNoah's Compass by Anne Tyler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a typical Anne Tyler book in that it is full of quirky characters and it is written flawlessly. The thing I like best about Tyler is her respect for the intelligence of her readers. She does not spell everything out for you, but lets you figure out what is going on and what is motivating her characters by her descriptions of what they do. She does not overdo details by dwelling on non-essentials but knows exactly what to describe to give the reader a feel for what is going on. If you like Anne Tyler, you will love this book.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Report: "Goodbye, Columbus," by Philip Roth

Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go (Library of America) Philip Roth: Novels and Stories 1959-1962: Goodbye, Columbus & Five Short Stories / Letting Go by Philip Roth


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am a Philip Roth fan, although not an uncritical one.  I don't know anyone who depicts the richness of Jewish life in America with such warmth and humor but fearlessness.  I wish Amish/Mennonites had someone writing who was half as good.

This book is Roth's first one, published in 1959, and winning The National Book Award. I picked this book up at the library, thinking that Goodbye, Columbus, would probably be pretty much like the movie but not having seen the movie in many years I was ready for a repeat of the story.  I won't say the book is nothing like the movie, but significant details are changed.  In the book, the young man doesn't have an affair with the mother -- they never can stand each other, and he doesn't get the advice at the end to go into plastics. (Later Update:  As Anonymous Wendy points out below, I confused Goodbye, Columbus with The Graduate, which has nothing to do with Philip Roth. The only similarity is that Richard Benjamin kind of looks like Dustin Hoffman.)

The other five short stories in the book are the equal of or better than Goodbye, Columbus.  The Conversion of the Jews, is about a young boy who questions Jewish dogma, arguing that if God is all-powerful there could have been a virgin birth as preached by some Christians.  He gets in trouble with the rabbi and winds up forcing the conversion of his entire synagogue to Christianity.  Many Jewish Americans were highly offended by the story, while critics loved it.

The other stories in the book are Defender of the Faith,  Epstein, You Can't Tell A Man By The Song He Sings, and Eli, The Fanatic.  I won't take the time to detail all of them, but generally they follow the same themes as the first two I have mentioned.

If your only knowledge of Philip Roth is the scandal caused by Portnoy's Complaint, when it was published (it wouldn't raise many eyebrows now,) then you owe it to yourself to read some of his other works.  You will feel enriched.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JACK Report: Another Review in the New York Times

It's hard for me to believe what stars the JACK Quartet has become.  Another review in today's New York Times, the second in three days for four young men, the oldest of whom has just turned 30.  I think I'm just going to have to accept that they are a success and stop being so surprised.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

JACK Report: A Big Hit At Bang On A Can

The New York Times has been very kind to the JACK Quartet, and now, once again, the newspaper has published JACK's picture, this time in connection with the Times review of the annual Bang on A Can Marathon Sunday.   There were 20 or so groups performing in the marathon, which ran from 12:00 noon on Sunday to 1:00 a.m. on Monday. 

A number of bloggers have also posted their impressions of the performances, many of them quite favorable to JACK.  Here's one who commented on another musician's reaction to JACK.  Here's another, who called JACK "the big hit of the day,"  at least up to the point that they played.  Here's another who did a live blog of the marathon and says JACK "just tore up Xenakis.  Here's another with a more general description of the marathon.

Tonight, JACK plays at Le Poisson Rouge, a concert which has gotten some advance buzz, including mentions in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and a blast from a conservative cretin at the National Review.  We'll see what the reviews say about that performance

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Report: "Solar" by Ian McEwan

Solar Solar by Ian McEwan


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ian McEwan, the author of books like Atonement, Chesel Beach and Saturday; isn't known for his humor, particularly, but this book is very funny, in a peculiarly English slap-stick sort of way.  It's about a scientist who wins a Nobel Prize at a young age, and then spends the rest of his life basking in his laurels and acting the cad.  He is utterly immoral, ditching wives and mistresses on whims; stealing the ideas of associates, and looking for ways to make money without having to work.  His life takes a turn when the wife he has been cheating on, cheats on him with a contractor and a junior associate scientist.  The hero (or anti-hero), manages to kill two birds in what has become a McEwan trade-mark, the bad guy falling down.  It all comes to an improbable end in the desert in New Mexico, but McEwan is such an excellent wordsmith that you put up with the schlock.  This book was made for summer beach reading.  It is short and fun.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

JACK Report: A Nasty Cretin Gets His Comeuppance

I used to like to read National Review back when William F. Buckley was the editor.  Although conservative, he was intelligent, with a dry sense of humor (and, besides, I was more conservative back then when I was naive.)  The people running it now don't even try to write intelligently.  They have become part of the Tea Party snarling pack of  wild dogs determined to rip the flesh off any liberal or imagined liberal they can find.

But, I had to smile when I became upon Jay Nordlinger's article in National Review huffing and puffing about the leftist domination of new music.  His attempt to turn sounds into some kind of political statement is just stupid, but he did mention Son Number Two's JACK Quartet, and there is no thing as bad publicity in the arts world.  He lumps JACK in with the whole leftist music conspiracy, which is fine by me.  They could be criticized for a lot of things worse than being part of a leftist cabal.

Now another blogger, takes after Nordlinger with a vengeance.  He calls Nordlinger a "nasty cretin" and "an obvious idiot and a boor." I don't know why he's holding back.  I could give him some additional epithets, but Nordlinger doesn't deserve the time and space.  I will make sure that the blogger gets on JACK's mailing list.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Report: "Songs Without Words" by Ann Packer

Songs Without Words Songs Without Words by Ann Packer


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Don't make the mistake I did and confuse Ann Packer with Ann Patchett.  Ann Patchett wrote some very good books, including Bel Canto and Truth and Beauty.  That's the author I thought I was getting when I checked out Songs Without Words.

I would call this "chick lit" except that it does a disservice to all the chicks I know and like.  It probably would be better labeled as "writers workshop" lit.  Some time, some place, someone told Packer that lots of detail enrich a story.  It does, when used with discretion.  But there should be a point to the detail. It should show you things about the character or plot that help you better understand the story. Pointless detail makes you want to scream "get on with the story!!!" 

The story is about how a family and its friends are impacted when their teen-age daughter tries to kill herself.  To complicate matters, the mother's closest friend lost her mother by suicide when she was a teenager.  The pressures that this action puts on the family are shown with great insight, knowledge that is probably only learned from first hand experience.  (According to my friend, Mr. Google, Packer's father committed suicide when she was a teenager.)  The weakest points are the beginning of the book when the family's life is too idyllic to be believable and the end, which is a little too much and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after for my tastes.

I credit Packer with telling a story on a difficult subject, it's just that the book would be so much better if it had been more tightly edited. 

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Book Report: "Imperfect Birds" by Anne Lamott

Imperfect Birds: A Novel Imperfect Birds: A Novel by Anne Lamott


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anne Lamott is a good writer, there is no question in my mind about that.  I loved her memoirs, "Traveling Mercies," and "Plan B."  I was less enthralled with her novels, "Blue Shoes" and "Joe Jones."  Her latest novel, "Imperfect Birds," was published in April of this year and is a follow-up story to "Rosie," which came out in 1983.  The new book has the same strengths and weaknesses as the earlier ones.

"Imperfect Birds" has the feeling of fictionalized autobiography.  It's about a recovering alcoholic/drug addict mother and her teen-age daughter who is also a drug addict.  It depicts their conflicts and co-dependencies in what seem like very realistic ways. A number of Lamott's books touch on those themes, as she is a recovering drug addict.   Lamott is good at leavening the dysfunctions with humor.  Lamott is unapologetically spiritual, but doesn't use the language of conventional religion to convey her beliefs.  She certainly has not led a conventional "godly" life."

The weakness of Lamott as a writer is described by herself in her description of James, a writer who is the step-father of the troubled daughter.  I don't have the exact language at hand, but the gist of it is that James is very good at writing description and dialogue, which he gleans from everyday people and situations.  He is not so good with plot.  My wife and I were listening to the book being read as an audiobook on a recent trip and as the reader read the description of James's writing, by wife said, "She is describing her own writing."

The book is better than average because of its strengths.  It doesn't rate five stars because of its weaknesses.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

JACK Report: The New York Times Likes Their Performance at Merkin

I was wrong in the preceding post; the New York Times has already published review of the JACK Quartet's performance last night.  They liked it.

Travel Report: We Love New York



New York City is always such an exciting place to be. It is buzzing with activity, at all hours of the day and night; there is such diversity of peoples, and, oh, by-the-way we have a son, daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be grandchild living there. We got here early Friday afternoon. Son Number Two was practicing with JACK and a composer for the opening performance of Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall, so we tiptoed around the apartment and tried not to distract them.

While the quartet practiced, The Wife, who has never seen soil that she doesn't want to put something in, decided to do her part in beautifying Brooklyn by buying some plants at Home Depot and fixing up the tiny garden in front of the apartment building.

Friday evening, we had an excellent dinner prepared by our daughter-in-law, The Cellist, and then headed downtown on the subway with Son Number Two for a gig at The Local 269, where SNT was playing with a group he occasionally performs with called (for some unexplained reason)
the cellar and point .  They describe their music as "garage-chamber" music, which actually makes sense.
Saturday morning, we worked on assembling the crib we brought from Illinois.  It is hand-made by my father from a cedar tree cut down on my grandfather"s (the baby-to-be's great-great grandfather) farm and looks beautiful after stripping the old varnish and putting on oil.The crib needed two more rubbings of steel-wool and one more coat of oil, which SNT, TC and TW did on Sunday.  The crib is beautiful.  I just hope the baby is cute enough to deserve it.


SNT on Saturday morning also had to go to Manhattan to rehearse with another composer for the Saturday night performance.  He left for the subway station about an hour and a half before he needed to be there, but about a half hour later, he was back.  After waiting and waiting for the train, which is supposed to run every 24 minutes, an announcement was made that there had been a fire on the subway and the line was shut down in both directions.  So, we took off in our car for Manhattan via the Manhattan bridge.  The traffic was exactly what you've heard about Manhattan traffic.  About 40 minutes later, we had gone less than five miles.  The worst part was getting over the Manhattan bridge; we made pretty good time once we were actually in Manhattan, but SNT was still 20 minutes late for the rehearsal.

The quartet planned to practice from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. and then take a three-hour break before doing a dress rehearsal at 5:00 p.m. for the 8:00 p.m. concert.  TC, TW and I headed downtown by way of subway (by that time, the line was open, although running slowly) and met SNT for some late lunch at a Korean restaurant.  By the time we were finished eating and had done some looking around, SNT needed to head to Merkin for the dress rehearsal.  It was very hot in Manhattan, in the low to mid 90s, but TC, TW and I decided we could walk from around 32nd Street where we had lunch to 67th street where the hall is located, which is a distance of about two and a half miles.    There are all kinds of interesting sights along the way.
A newly-wed Indian couple posing for pictures in Columbus Circle.










A limber street performer showing you can be limber and cool at the same time.







The concert was well received.  There are some things I could say about it, but a New York Times reviewer and a photographer were there, so I will wait until the review comes out; probably Monday or Tuesday.  We came home late on the subway. 

Sunday morning, we slept late, ate some excellent french toast and then made shopping trips to Ikea, Trader Joe's and The Home Depot and then TW, SNT and TC futzed around in the garden and rubbed the crib with more steel wool.  Tomorrow morning, we head back to the Midwest. Depending on the traffic getting out of here, we may try to make it in one day.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Travel Report: Off to the Big Apple To Deliver A Crib

Anonymous Becky wonders in a comment on the posting below whether I was sending some kind of coded message when I mentioned going to New York City to deliver a crib. I apologize. I had forgotten that I neglected to mention in this forum that Son Number Two and his wife, The Cellist, are expecting a baby, around October 1st. It will be a boy and I know the name, but I'm not telling until the parents announce the name.

The Wife and I are really excited about having a grandchild, and she is excited about being a grandmother. I have not yet gotten used to the idea of being old enough to be a grandparent, but I realize it's difficult to have a grandchild without being a grandparent. So, overall, I'm excited too. At this point, I'm drawing the line against being called "grandpa," or any of its variations. I think I'm going to try to get the little tyke to call me "crockhead," but it will probably come out "CaCa" or something so I'm sure my fight against cutesy is quixotic.

We're taking a baby crib that my father built for one of my younger siblings from a cedar tree cut from my grandfather's farm. So, that will be a physical connection from the baby to its great-great-grandfather. That is really exciting to me. The crib belongs to one of my brothers, we're not sure which one and had been stored at the Amish museum in Arcola. My brother, the Humble Carpenter-Farmer-Philosopher has worked very hard restoring the finish and bringing it up to modern codes by fixing the side so it won't slide down. It is looking just like I remember it looking when it was new. I will try to post a picture after we get it assembled in New York.

Besides delivering the crib, we're also taking the table we had made for SNT and TC for their wedding and various baby things TW had saved from when SNT was a baby, including his bedraggled teddy bear, one of his first outfits and his favorite baby books.

We're also going to hear SNT play while we're there. Friday night, SNT performs with a guitarist and some other people at some venue about which I am unsure at the moment. We'll find out when we get there. Saturday night, The JACK Quartet opens The Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall. Sunday, we'll relax and Monday we'll head home.

The SUV is packed to the gills and I'm heading out to start the day off right by walking 3.6 miles before I come back to sit in the car all day.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Book Report: "The Flying Troutmans" by Miriam Toews

The Flying Troutmans: A Novel The Flying Troutmans: A Novel by Miriam Toews


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although a Mennonite writer, Toews has no identifiable Mennonite themes or characters in this book. It's about the troubled life of a family in which one member, the mother of two children, 16, and 11, is mentally ill. Her sister flies back from Paris because of a failed love and winds up finding meaning in her life by taking the children on a cross-country trip to find their father. They have lots of adventures, none of them particularly original, and lots of insights, none of them particularly insightful. I am very critical of the endings in most books, and the ending of this book impresses me mainly for being even lamer than usual. I gave the book three stars because the writer is a good technician.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, May 31, 2010

Son Report: Back In The New York Times With Hutchins East

Son Number Two is about as self-effacing as any artist you would ever meet, but despite any efforts on his part, the New York Times keeps writing about him and publishing his picture.In today's Times, the reviewer, Steve Smith, reports on the inaugural concert of "Hutchins East," a new ensemble that SNT has organized to play on a special group of instruments based on the violin family.  The concert included two of SNT's own compositions. The wife commented, "He is still wearing that shirt we gave him years ago."(Yes, he is still playing with JACK, whom we are going to hear Friday night in New York.We are going to deliver a baby crib made by my father from a cedar tree he cut down on my grandfather's farm.  Is that fantastic or what?)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Report: Let's Hear It For The Little Black Dresses

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At last, a Mennonite who writes like a Jew.  Profane, profound and wickedly funny.  This is one of those juiced up autobiographies where the author admits to some exaggerations for the sake of the narrative.  The book is not so much about Mennonites or black dresses as it is the author's coming to terms with the fact that the man whom she loves left her for another man named Bob whom he met on gay.com, followed by a serious car accident six days later that left her with multiple broken bones.

Rhoda Janzen grew up in California, of Russian Mennonite immigrants, who belonged to the Mennonite Brethren Church, a less severe form of Mennonitism than most of the conservative Mennonites with whom people in the Midwest and the east are familiar.  She is now an English professor at Hope College in Michigan

For some reason, several of my friends who are women disliked the book immensely.  It would be fun to talk about the reasons for that. They have said they didn't like the tone she took towards her family, particularly her sisters-in-law whom she skewers rather effectively; that she seemed to flaunt her education and the freedom to use words not normally heard in polite company, and that some of the factual details are wrong.  I have my suspicions about why men might react differently to the book than women.  It probably has to do with why men are always more charitable towards beautiful women in little black dresses.

This book has gotten a lot of attention nationally, getting rave reviews in the New York Times, Time Magazine and other national outlets.  She is apparently now writing another book tentatively called "Backsliding," in which she tells about her journey back to a more spiritual outlook and her marriage to a truckdriver.  I can hardly wait.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So, Floyd Landis Is Not An Amish Liar

We strive for truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I have been convinced by several sources that I was wrong in calling Floyd Landis an Amish Liar.  Neither he nor his parents were ever Amish.  They were extremely conservative Mennonites.  So, Floyd Landis is a Mennonite Liar. 

And, it turns out that Spark Plug McGee, the stripper who broke up Sandra Bullock's marriage was never Amish either.  She wasn't even Mennonite.  She was just a sleazy publicity hound who thought she could extend her 15 minutes of fame by claiming she was Amish.  But, apparently she did not lie about having sex with Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James.  And he wasn't Amish or Mennonite either.

So there.  Let it never be said that I am too proud to admit my mistakes.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Report: "Following the Equator" by Mark Twain

Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I feel sorry for folks whose exposure to Mark Twain is limited to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  Although those are good books, I really love his travel writing.  Following the Equator is not a book you would want to read to find out the best route to take, the best places to eat and sleep or what to see.  But, it is a book to read if you enjoy sardonic humor, with Twain's wry comments about what he sees.  One surprising thing to me, given Twain's causal use of racial slurs is his outrage at how the whites in South Africa were treating the blacks, which he linked to how Americans treated native Americans.  But the reason to read Twain these days is that he is still so funny.  Here's a passage about the clothes he saw the Boers wearing in South Africa:
A gaunt, shackly country lout six feet high, in battered gray slouched hat with wide brim and old resin-colored breeches, had on a hideous brand-new woolen coat which was imitation tiger skin-- wavy broad stripes of dazzling yellow and deep brown.  I thought he ought to be hanged, and asked the stationmaster if it could be arranged.  He said no; and not only that, but said it rudely; said it with a quite unnecessary show of feeling.  Then he muttered something about my being a jackass, and walked away and pointed me out to people, and did everything he could to turn public sentiment against me.  It is what one gets for trying to do good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Floyd Landis: An Amish Liar

Having grown up Amish, it is no big shock to me to find out that Amish(and conservative Christians generally) are not morally or ethically superior in any way to their more worldly neighbors. But Amish, in particular, have such great public relations that the world, in general, is surprised to find out their values are just like everyone else's. So, Floyd Landis, the ex-Amish bicyclist, whose parents took such care in raising him that they shielded him from such corrupting influences as television and movies, turns out to be as big a liar as the worst beer-guzzling, couch-potato, porn-movie watching atheist.

Landis, you may recall, was stripped of his title, after winning the 2006 Tour de France, because evidence of doping turned up in his post-race blood test. Landis has spent the last four years defending himself; soliciting contributions to a fund to sue the Tour de France for stripping him of his title; turning up on television (as recently as several weeks ago on Larry King Live) to proclaim his innocence.

Now, a few days ago, he admits it was all a big lie.  But, he says, he was not the only one.  Everyone else was doing it too, including his former teammate and best friend, Lance Armstrong.  I have no idea whether everyone else was doing it too, but I sure wouldn't take Floyd Landis's word for it.  He's an admitted liar.  The best thing for Landis to do is to go back to Pennsylvania, and help his father clean out the barn.  He has proven he is an expert at shoveling manure.  And he won't need any dope to enhance his performance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Report: "The Facts," by Philip Roth

The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography by Philip Roth


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The "facts" part of this book, purportedly the autobiography of Philip Roth is not that interesting. Roth focuses on five events in his life, but leaves out so much that you wonder why he bothers. But then Roth has his alter ego, Zuckerman, comment on and criticize what he has written. That is very interesting, as he considers the difference between fact and fiction and explains how fiction can be more truthful than fact. What the book comes down to is not about the facts of the life of Philip Roth, but an interesting exploration or truth and fiction. The last Zuckerman chapter brought my rating of the book up from three to four stars.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Report: "Once on a Moonless Night" by Dai Sijie

Once on a Moonless Night (Wheeler Hardcover) Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I really wanted to like this book. I like Sijie's "Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress." My wife likes the book and recommended it for our book club. But I just couldn't get into it. I re-read the first 20 pages about three times trying to make sense of it. Names pop up without any introduction and then when they're mentioned again, I had to go back and try to figure out who that character is. There are essentially three narrators, and the point of view keeps shifting without warning. After I finally got through the book, I went back and read again the first 100 pages and now it makes sense. But the payoff doesn't warrant the effort. I'm sorry Rosalee.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Report: "Bridge of Sighs" by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am not a big Richard Russo fan. Another reviewer has called him narcissistic and that's how I felt about "Nobody's Fool." But this is very nearly a perfect book. The characters are drawn with care and the author makes you care about them. The characters change over time, but all within what is credible for that character to do. Russo is a master at revealing information slowly and at using multiple points of view to keep the story interesting. It is a long book, one that you wish would be longer. My most frequent complaint about books I read is that a perfectly good book is ruined by a hokey, unbelievable ending. The ending in this book is bittersweet; not too sentimental but overall leaves the reader feeling good. A perfect ending to a nearly perfect book.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

JACK Report: Mixed with a little Swedish

JACK is hip. Somebody at the University of Oregon mixed some excerpts of JACK with Komeda, a Swedish pop/indie band. It sounds cool.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crockhead Report: I Survived Ebertfest

Some day soon, I will blog about my experiences at the 12th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival in our town last weekend. I promise. I'm still recovering from sleep deprivation. In the meantime, if you are a fan of JACK Quartet, or are wondering what they sound like,WNYC is streaming them live this afternoon at 2:30 EDT, 1:30 CDT. Unfortunately, I will be on the road and unable to listen. Let me know if you listened and what you think.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

JACK Report: "Mind-Blowingly Good"

I have been telling anyone who would listen that the JACK Quartet is going to blow LA's mind (minds?) when they hear the concerts they were doing last night and tonight. I was right. Here is the review from today's LA Times. I am unabashedly, unashamedly proud. These young men are going places. (The photo was taken through night vision glasses of Kevin McFarland, the cellist, by LA Times photographer Gary Friedman)

JACK Report: Darkness in LA

As I have previously reported, JACK has two sold out concerts in Los Angeles last night and tonight. I've been breathlessly waiting for reviews. The first one is up now at this link. It's a very perceptive review.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Prove You're Not An Idiot, Mayor Schweighart

This is a video of the mayor of my city at a Tea Party rally on Thursday. He is a retired police officer and should know better than to say something this stupid.



In today's local newspaper, the Mayor defended himself by saying that he was asked for and gave his opinion. As The Wife has pointed out, whether President Obama is a citizen is not an opinion, it's a question of fact. Mayor Schweighart can't produce his original birth certificate either, it's in the custody of the Champaign County Clerk and will stay there no matter what Mayor Schweighart does. The only thing the mayor can do is the same thing Obama did; produce a copy.

So, here's my opinion, Mayor Schweighart. You're an idiot. Until you produce the original IQ test showing you're not, you're not qualified to be mayor of my city.

Here's a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video produced by someone making essentially the same point.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You Were Right, Professor Allen

The announcement this week of the retirement of John Paul Stephens from the United States Supreme Court brought to mind a Messiah concert I attended at the University of Michigan the first Sunday in December, 1974. I was brought up in a family with no knowledge, indeed, scorn, of classical music. My in-laws, however, loved classical music and had made it a family tradition to make the two and one-half hour trek every December from Bay Port to Ann Arbor to hear Handel's Messiah.

In December, 1994, I was in my first semester of law school at the University of Michigan and was taking a criminal law course under the legendary Francis A. Allen, a former dean of the law school, author of a definitive textbook on criminal law and principal author of the Illinois Criminal Code of 1961. I discovered as the concert was getting started that we were sitting directly in front of Professor Allen.

I was a shy, young student, awed by the professors and my peers at the law school, intimidated from opening my mouth in class. So, all through the first part of the Messiah, I worried about Professor Allen sitting behind me. He probably didn't even know me, I was in a large section of about 100 students and he had three sections of first year students; I had never been called upon or spoken in his class and he would probably never know the difference if I just pretended I didn't know who he was and ignored him. On the other hand, he was very bright and what if he did recognize me and would be offended if I didn't speak to him.

When intermission came and everyone stood up to stretch, I bravely turned around, offered my hand, introduced myself and told him I was in one of his first year criminal law sections. He was very gracious, didn't act like I was a stranger, but it quickly became awkward standing there facing each other with nothing really to say to each other, but unable to walk away.

Out of the blue, Professor Allen started talking about John Paul Stephens, whom Gerald Ford had just nominated for the Supreme Court. There was concern in the legal community because he would replace Justice William O. Douglas, who had established himself as the leading liberal, probably of all time, on the court. Would Ford's pick, a relatively unknown Republican, undermine all the good work the Warren court had done in the area of privacy, civil rights and criminal rights? Professor Allen had spent time in Chicago, teaching at Northwestern and the University of Chicago and knew Mr. Stephens. I don't remember exactly what was said in our conversation, but I have a distinct memory of Professor Allen saying, "He's going to be all right."

It's ironic to now hear the media regularly refer to Mr. Justice Stephens as a liberal. He is not a liberal in the mode of Justice Douglas, and he made several rulings with which I disagree. He is a common sense moderate, however, who did not allow partisanship to enter into his decisions. His denunciation of the five Republicans on the court, who stopped the Florida recount in 2000 and ordered George W. Bush installed as president, because continuing the recount would undermine his "credibility," makes him a hero, no matter how much I disagreed on other issues.

You were right, Professor Allen. Mr. Justice Stephens turned out all right.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Son Report: "A Performance For The Ages"

Regular readers know I am never shy about letting you know when reviewers say nice things about Son Number Two's performances with JACK Quartet. In fact, it's probably getting a little old -- at least for Son Number Two. He never lets me know about these things; I have engaged a private investigator, Mr. Google, to relentlessly search the internet and send me an email when it finds something of interest. Last night, I could not believe my eyes at what Mr. Google sent me.

Son Number Two regularly does gigs with other musical groups besides JACK. Sunday, he played with a group called Ne(x)tworks. They did a piece by Morton Feldman, his String Quartet No. 2, which is made up of one movement running six hours long. It was done without any breaks, for musicians or audience, in a new space, Issue Project Room. The Wife and I listened to the performance, which was streamed live on the internet, and it was very listenable music. While SNT was playing, we listened, ate lunch, read the newspaper, went to the hardware store and worked in the yard. I talked with Son Number Two Sunday night after the performance. Although he had water with him, he didn't drink any until after the performance. He told me the problem for him was not getting thirsty or needing to use the bathroom but fatigue. His arms and shoulders were hurting by the time he got finished. (So, you probably think, as I did, he now has a week or two to recuperate. No, he played with a different group Monday night; is scheduled to play with another group tonight; with JACK in New York on Thursday night; then he flies with JACK to California for performances Saturday night, Monday night and Tuesday night. The Monday night performance is sold out.)

So, this is what Mr. Google sent me. A review in the New York Times by Steve Smith in which he concludes that this was "a performance for the ages."  Now that is high praise for any performer, particularly for one just 26 years old.  Did I say I'm proud of my son?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

JACK Report: Another New York Times Review

It's time for the monthly New York Times review of JACK. This is the one in today's paper on page C-3. No pictures of JACK, alas.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

JACK Report: SOLD OUT

Who says the public doesn't like new music? I see JACK's LA debut on April 19th is SOLD OUT! And it's not like tickets are cheap -- at least by Midwestern standards. They're $27 a pop. Don't despair, people on the West Coast. There are still tickets available for the April 20 performance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Amish "Bombshell" Breaks Up Sandra Bullock's Marriage

Okay, the world is crazy, but this is the craziest thing I've heard in a long time. If you don't follow the tabloids (I don't either, but I still found this out) you may not realize that Sandra Bullock, who just won an Oscar for The Blind Side, learned this week that her husband, Jesse James, is cheating on her with a tattoo model, Michelle "Bombshell" McGee.

Among other salacious details from Bombshell McGee is that she grew up Amish, left the church when she was 16 and her parents won't speak to her. (You don't say!) Who knows how much if her story is true, but if she really did grow up Amish, you can be sure that her real name isn't "Michelle McGee." But then who is going to pay to see a tattoo model named Amanda Yoder?



I guess if Amish can grow up to be lawyers, then why not sluts?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Obscure Fact: Dylan Wrote A Song About My Town

I was skeptical at first, when a friend posted on Facebook that the great Bob Dylan co-wrote a song about Champaign in 1969 with Carl Perkins. I'm a Dylan fan and I had never heard of it. But my friend, Google, found this excerpt from a book by Clinton Heylin, which confirms it. Apparently he never recorded it, and when he was here for the first Farm Aid concert in September, 1985 (where I was present,) he didn't sing it. I particularly like the first lines:

I got a woman in Morocco
I got a woman in Spain
Woman that done stole my heart,
She lives up in Champaign

Here is a Youtube video of Carl Perkins singing the song, with some great photos taken around the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana. Cool.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

JACK Report: Get Your Lawyers on This!!!

I'll bet you're wondering what has been happening to the JACK Quartet (actually, you're probably wondering whether I haven't been reading any good books or seeing any good movies lately. I have. Reports will come in due time. Or not.)
Last week, the New York Times had another rave review of JACK, accompanied with a four column picture. To just pick out a few random blurbs: "young, hip JACK Quartet"; "this brilliant ensemble"; "viscerally exciting"; "eclectic thoughtful program"; "riveting performance"; "a tour de force of intensity and color."

The reviewer comments that he previously heard JACK perform in black t-shirts, but the performance last week was in suits and ties and that the Quartet proved it can do both. That review has been widely reprinted, not just because it was about JACK, but because it is by the New York Times.

Now, lo and behold, some internet t-shirt purveyor in the United Kingdom is using the quartet to sell t-shirts -- not JACK t-shirts, just t-shirts in general. The ad quotes the review as saying the Quartet is comfortable in either t-shirts or suits, and then goes on to basically say, "you too can be comfortable. Buy a t-shirt from us." Take a look at the ad, it's weird.

Monday, February 22, 2010

JACK Report: The New Yorker Takes Notice

If you're a subscriber to The New Yorker (and why would anyone not be?) don't miss the article on pages 78 and 79 of this week's issue by Alex Ross entitled "The Singular Iannis Xenakis." (There's no point in posting a link because you have to be a subscriber to read it.) In the course of the article Ross describes the "JACK Quartet's howlingly beautiful rendition of 'Tetras' (1983) at the Morgan Library earlier this month."

The article concludes by saying, "Xenakis once announced that he sought 'a total exaltation in which the individual mingles, losing his consciousness in a truth immediate, rare, enormous, and perfect.' If these performances didn't quite achieve that transcendent goal, they came exhilaratingly close."

As I have stated before on these pages, the importance to my son and his JACK cohorts of being noticed by media like The New Yorker goes far beyond the one million actual subscribers to the magazine and other media like The New York Times. They are cultural arbiters. When they say a group or performance is fine, other critics pick up the refrain and their opinion is amplified. Whether justified or not, that is the way the world works and it is so gratifing to see my son, the grandson of an Amishman who had never heard of The New Yorker, benefit from it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Report: Pat Conroy Has Run Out of Ideas

When Book-of-the-Month Club offered Pat Conroy's latest book, South of Broad, I eagerly ordered it. Conroy has written some great books: Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, Prince of Tides, The Water Is Wide, but he has not had any new books for several years.
It didn't take too many pages to figure out that this book isn't the end of Pat Conroy's dry spell. He is just repeating the same books he has been writing, except now the overbearing father with a fanatical allegiance to an authoritarian organization, the Citadel, is an overbearing mother with a fanatical devotion to the Roman Catholic church. The good guy basketball coach is now the good guy football coach. The token black is back; the narrator is still the wise-cracking hero who goes through harrowing adventures before everything turns out all right in the end.
Conroy has always had a penchant for melodramatic plotting, but this one is so over-the-top that it is not remotely believable. Conroy never met a superlative he didn't like. Everything and everyone is the best, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most talented, the worst criminal in the history of mankind. Average people and ordinary events don't exist in Pat Conroy's world.
Conroy still knows how to turn a good phrase. But his writing talent is wasted in this book. Even if you're a Conroy fan, particularly if you're a Conroy fan, don't bother to see how the mighty have fallen by wasting your time on this book. I gave it two stars out of five.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Excerpt of What the Parents Are Up Against Tonight

Opera Cabal has a video which it calls a trailer, but is actually a seven-minute excerpt of the opera, UW, which we're going to Chicago to see. Although only a small part of the video, there is a great deal of tennis-ball-throwing-against-the-sheet action. Parents will do anything for their children.

The Parents Head Off To See "USW"; "Not Your Parents' Opera"


We've been warned. As parents, we'll go anywhere; listen to anything; see anything, if our children are involved. Son, Chris, and daughter-in-law, Emily, played last night and tonight in an Opera Cabal production of USW, a multi-media opera based on the life of Rosa Luxemburg, the German socialist. The Chicagoist warns that this is "Not your parents' opera." Well, maybe it's not our parents' opera, but no opera is (my father used to refer to soprano opera singers as "sounding like two cats fighting in a bag.") But any opera in which our children are involved is "our" opera. The Chicagoist says last night's performance at Curtiss Hall was sold out. Luckily, we reserved our tickets for tonight several weeks ago.

We're not going totally unprepared. Last fall, we went to Chicago to see a workshop production. I'm hoping they've improved it since then, but never mind if they haven't. The music was fine, and the chance to see Chris and Emily was priceless. The production opened at Oberlin College last weekend and will be in New York City on Monday night.

If the weather is decent, I would love to take a Segway tour of Chicago. I've always wanted to ride one of those things. George W. Bush's falling off does not deter me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Report: "The Gravedigger's Daughter" by Joyce Carol Oates

I just finished listening to The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates. I didn't like Oates's early books; there was too much graphic violence for my tastes. Either Oates has gotten more skillful in her use of violence or I have gotten more inured to it, maybe both, but I really like this book.

The book comes in at nearly 600 pages, but it is not a page too long. It takes those pages to tell the story of a young woman, born in New York harbor in 1936 when her family escapes Nazi Germany. Her family settles in upstate New York, familiar Oates territory, and suffers from the small town prejudices of the era. There is family tragedy, but, somehow, the young woman survives to make it on her own.

Despite the tragedy, the book is not depressing, even in the emotional ending when even this hard-hearted old reporter started almost thinking about getting somewhat choked up. (I didn't actually shed a tear though. Thankfully.)

I have often complained about fine books, spoiled by poorly-written endings. That is not a concern in this book. In fact, the ending, which appeared excerpted in The New Yorker several years ago, may be the strongest part of the book.

The edition to which I listened was read by Bernadette Dunne. If you have ever considered listening to a book, this is one to try. Ms. Dunne does a masterful job with using different voices with different accents to convey an addition dimension to the characters. The book is strong enough to stand on its own as a paper book, but the recorded version is even stronger, in my opinion.

This is one of those rare books that made me say "wow!" at the end. I gave it five plus stars and my rating scale only goes to five.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Roger Ebert: A Wonderful Story

Regulars here know how much I admire Roger Ebert, the movie critic. I never really followed him much on television when he and Gene Siskel would give movie reviews. About 10 years ago, I started attending Ebertfest, his festival of movies that he likes, in our town, and I was soon captivated by his charm, intelligence and knowledge about movies and movie making. I started taking vacation so I could attend all of the Ebertfest movies. I got six good years of Ebert, before he lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. One of the highlights of my life is being part of a packed audience, listening to Ebert and Werner Herzog talk, after the showing of one of Herzog's movies, until 2 o'clock in the morning. No one was leaving, despite the late hour, because we were entranced by listening as two great minds chatted about their passions. Now, Esquire Magazine has a lengthy but great profile of Ebert, which you can read here. By all means, even if you don't like movies, take the time to read the article. Ebert's face is disfigured, he can't talk and he can't eat or drink, but he can still communicate, and does he ever. Ebert still considers himself a lucky man. And then, go read Roger Ebert's Journal in which he writes about his reaction to the Esquire article. Ebertfest 2010 is coming up in about another two months, and I have my pass, purchased on the first day of sales, because they're always sold out. Roger Ebert plans to be there again this year, inspiring us with his life as well as his words. I can't wait.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

JACK Report: New York Concert Last Night


As anyone knows who has been reading this blog, I have been virtually obsessed with passing on praise of JACK for the last several months. The concert last night at the Morgan Library in New York City was a big deal, hyped by cultural arbiters like the New York Times and The New Yorker. At the left is a copy of the program, posted an hour or two after the program by an anonymous blogger. The first review/report was posted last night here. The author said the auditorium was nearly filled, mostly by young people, but also by traditional concert goers. He/she says this is where classical music should be.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

This Is Not Bragging; It's Just Posting Some Music

I stumbled upon this YouTube video this morning. I am not bragging about my offspring's violin playing. It probably isn't even that good. It might not be. It's just interesting -- to me (and it's my blog, so there.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

JACK Report: This Is Not Bragging; It's Just a Picture


My friend, Catcher in the Wry, blogged yesterday that she doesn't like bloggers who brag too much about their children. I plead guilty, and I will reform. But this picture, composed by Stephen Poff, of Birmingham, AL, where JACK played this past weekend, is an interesting portrait. I'm not bragging about JACK. I'm bragging about Stephen Poff. Oh, and this is not bragging either, it's just information. Check your New Yorker this week under recitals for a description of JACK Quartet and their concert Friday at the Morgan Library in New York City. I found it to be interesting.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Movie Report: A Single Man


I went to see A Single Man yesterday evening with The Wife. She liked the nude scenes. They didn't do much for me. Who knew that Tom Ford, a fashion designer who saved the house of Gucci from bankruptcy, could make a movie this good? It will undoubtedly win some awards. I especially liked the Woody Allenesque ending. I gave it five stars.

Friday, January 29, 2010

JACK Report: A Critic Reviews Looney Tunes Performance

The review by the Montgomery, AL Advertiser's critic of the JACK performance last night is not entirely without criticism, but overall, he seemed to enjoy the performance.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

JACK Report: Montgomery, AL Is Promoting The Heck Out of Them

There are other things happening besides son, Chris, playing with the JACK Quartet, but right now exciting things are happening with the Quartet. They're in Montgomery, AL right now, getting ready for their appearances in several ClefWorks concerts. Here is an interesting promotional video put out today in Montgomery.



Here is the review in The Philadelphia Inquirer of a performance this past weekend that the lady in the video talked about.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That "kickin' JACK Quartet"


Alex Ross, the New Yorker music critic has a nice shout out again today on his blog about "the kickin' JACK Quartet." They're in Sarasota, Florida this weekend and will be playing the Xenakis quartets in New York in early February.