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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

A long-standing obsession of mine has been act 1, scene 2, from Shakespeare’s Richard III. It’s the scene where Richard accosts Lady Anne during a funeral procession and, in the course of a few hundred lines, steers her from unmitigated loathing all the way ’round the bend to a point where she warms to his affection, accepts his ring, and considers his suit for her hand in marriage. Afterward, astonished, Richard asks us:

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?

Answer: No. Never. Not in a million years.

The complete implausibility of this scene has always puzzled me. I’ve read analyses of the play, pored through the variorum of the play, all to no avail. Shakespeare, generally quite good at character motivation and development, has shoehorned this relationship into his play, telling us “Just roll with it.”

Why?

My friend Barb, who knew of my curiosity on the topic, recommended I read Sharon Kay Penman’s historical opus, The Sunne in Splendour, a historical novel about Richard III. Now that I have, I’m glad I did, but the book is not without flaws. (more…)

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I spent the week in San Francisco.

I spent the week in 1949. (more…)

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This weekend I finished reading a book, the first one in a while. I enjoyed it a great deal, but it was an unusual read in that, from the book’s very first page, I felt a very real connection to it. You see, my library also includes a few stolen books.

On my “old/rare books” shelf lies an 1892 edition of The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott. A family member—enamored of its exquisite etchings—checked it out from a library in the early ’40s and just “forgot” to return it. When it came into my possession, forty years later, it was agreed by all that returning it was unnecessary. Probably.

A few other books on my shelf have sketchy backgrounds, too. One is a Bible illustrated by Salvador Dali that I didn’t ask too many questions about, and another is a large-format book of the works Michelangelo that had been so obviously mismarked at a garage sale that paying the 50¢ asking price was nothing short of theft.

And so, when in the prologue to her non-fiction bestseller, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, author and journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett describes how she came into possession of a book with a less-than-pristine provenance, I felt the echoed pangs of my own guilty conscience. (more…)

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When I learn a thing, I like to know the why of it.

It’s not enough to know that something is the way it is; I want to know why it is the way it is. This did not serve me well my study of mathematics since, when I got down to basic axioms and postulates, the answer to why was often: just because.

It’s one of the reasons mathematics and I have had such a rocky relationship.

It’s also why I have a love/hate relationship with recipes.

Recipes tell me what to do, but not why I should do it. Don’t get me wrong; recipes are great as a way to capture a particular dish, but in the end, they teach me little more than a procedure. I can follow each step to perfection and create the best whatever-it-is, but if I mess something up, or if it’s a cool day, or if the humidity is high, and the dish turns out wrong/different/bad, in the end, I do not know why.

I’ve read a lot of books on cooking, and though they’ve tried, none of them have successfully taught me the elusive why of the culinary arts.

Until now. (more…)

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What do a fork, a model of a ship, and a priest’s right eye have in common?

No, they’re not props from a horror movie.

They’re all objects discussed in Neil MacGregor’s book, Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects.

As readers of this blog know, I have a bit of a fascination with Shakespeare, so this book is right in my wheelhouse. The subtitle gave me a general idea of what I was getting, but what I didn’t expect was such a fascinating overview of  life in the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean periods.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, takes a disparate collection of 16th century objects–ranging from the everyday to the unique–and gives us a chapter on each one. Naturally, he describes each object, its history, its use, and its provenance, but this is all expected content. The lavish photos of the objects themselves (as well as related items) are clear, detailed, and beautiful, but each chapter really shines when MacGregor expands the discussion beyond the basics, showing us the social context of each item. Through MacGregor’s clean, unhurried prose, we learn what each object might have meant to the average groundling in the pit or noble in the tiers. An apprentice’s cap, for instance, looks simply like a cap to us, but if you were one of the Queen’s subjects on the streets of London in 1600, it would tell you of the wearer’s social standing, might remind you of the apprentice-led riots over food prices. Later, when you went to The Rose or The Curtain to see Coriolanus, and saw the cap-wearing citizens berating Menenius over the high cost of corn, you would remember those riots, and know that things might get very ugly, very quickly.

The list of objects MacGregor has chosen is, as I mentioned, varied. He discusses a fork used to eat sweetmeats in the same detail and depth as he does the model ship used as a token, built in thanks by James I for his safe passage home from abroad. Each object is inspected both as a thing from within Shakespeare’s world–i.e., as relates to his plays and the world of the theater–as well as within his world at large. In reading this book, I learned a great deal about the lives and the mindsets of Shakespeare’s patrons, high-born and low, but also expanded my understanding of the period and its conflicts.

This book was of great interest to me, as you might expect, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in history, the history of objects, and the tumultuous, change-filled period of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean England.

Oh, and that priest’s right eye?

Get the book.

k

Brickwork

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Echoes from another time.

“You’re too sensitive.”
“I was just teasing!”
“You need to come out of your shell.”
“You spend too much time in your head.”

When I was young, adults labeled me with words like “shy” and “bookish” which didn’t sound bad but I was pretty sure they weren’t compliments. I had no such confusion with the schoolyard taunts of “pussy” and “faggot.”

These were the judgments pronounced upon me. They were the phrases that defined me. They were spoken so often, I believed them. I believed that I was defective, inferior. I believed that I was somehow less. Even with all my gifts–of concentration, of perseverance, in music, as an autodidact–I still felt that there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit in, because I rarely spoke up, because I enjoyed solitary activities, because I preferred walking in the hills to traveling with the pack.

So, when a friend recommended Susan Cain’s sociological study, Quiet, I was intrigued.

(more…)

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As part of my preparation for my next book, I’m reading and analyzing authors who exhibit a particular style. So far, it’s been Alice Hoffmann and Julio Cortazar. Now, it’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The book I chose was Love in the Time of Cholera, and several things immediately set it apart from other books I’ve read in recent years.  (more…)

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