February Reviews - Lightning Round!



Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald - (no rating)
Biggest disappointment of the year so far; did not finish.

The Atlas of Beauty - Mihaela Noroc - 3 stars
An interesting library book.  Somewhat repetitive; would've 
preferred less social-political commentary.

Embers - Sándor Márai - 4 stars
Surprisingly great!  European history buffs will appreciate
 this ruminating novel.  Full review here.

Poetry of the First World War - ed. Marcus Clapham - 3 stars
Not an easy or pretty read, but a sobering one.  More thoughts here.

Moonflower - Jade Nicole Beals - 4 stars
 Poems of peace and introspection; this was a refreshing read.

Anthem - Ayn Rand - 2 stars
Great concept, so-so execution.  Full review here.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote - 1 star
Writing style on point, story not my cuppa.  More thoughts here.

This has not been the month for in-depth, written reviews, and I'm feeling a bit sheepish about that.  Work has been so busy; I've gone from one big project to the next, which is great but takes a toll on the reading energies.  Here's to hoping March will be a little easier!

Ice Skating to Classic Literature - Friday Thoughts

Medvedeva's Anna Karenina, from an earlier competition.

I don't usually watch a lot of TV, but that changes as soon as the Winter Olympics comes around.  It feels like the world is just a little (tiny) bit saner when the Olympics goes well, and, of course, I get a thrill out of watching skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding, which are all pretty close to flying.

But figure skating has that extra special piece to it - the story.  This evening we watched the intense, final showdown between the top two skaters, both hailing from Russia and studying under the same coach.  Oh - and they both skated to music with a classic literature connection!  Alina Zagitova, who won gold, skated to the ballet based on Don Quixote, by composer Leon Minkus.  Evgenia Medvedeva came in a very close second place with her performance to the Anna Karenina soundtrack by Dario Marianelli.  [Marianelli is more famous for his Pride & Prejudice (2005) score.]  

There were other skaters with bookish programs, too - Cinderella and The Phantom of the Opera, to name a couple.  Needless to say, classic lit was well represented at the Olympics. :)

Though not from a classic book, this program was one I wanted to share.  It's Kaori Sakamoto, skating to music from the French movie Amélie.  I haven't watched it, but it's lovely to see the creative and whimsical story she's telling through her skating.  This is from an earlier competition (YouTube is pretty strict about Olympics clips):
 

Rom-Com Opera: Donizetti's L’Elisir d’Amore


Three years already since my last opera review?!  I feel bad about that and intend to start making it right, firstly with this review of L'Elisir d'Amore ("The Elixir of Love") by Gaetano Donizetti, of Lucia di Lammermoor fame.

Some backstory for newer readers: I've been enjoying operas at the local movie theater, streamed live from the Met, since 2012.  It's a wonderful weekend "excursion" - my cousin, also an opera fan, has joined me in the last couple of years, and I've succeeded in getting my sister and brother interested as well.  Tickets run around $30, but for a 2-4 hour show and the quality of the productions, you definitely get your money's worth.  (That said, I usually only go to 2-3 per season, for budgetary reasons.)

The story of L'Elisir d'Amore is a classic love triangle - a rich, carefree lady named Adina (sung by Pretty Yende) is being aggressively wooed by an arrogant but dashing sergeant, Belcore (baritone Davide Luciano).  Meanwhile, the young peasant Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) is also pining after Adina and will do anything to get her attention.  A traveling salesman posing as a "Dr" Dulcamara (Ildebrando D'Arcangelo) sees an opportunity to sell Nemorino his special love potion, an elixir that is guaranteed to make all the ladies fall in love with him - including, of course, Adina.


Dramatic operas are more my cup of tea, so when L'Elisir d'Amore came up, I was drawn to it mainly because I loved Donizetti's music in Lucia. I was not disappointed - Donizetti's elegant bel canto melodies bring a level of class to a story that is otherwise pretty cheesy.  Most casual listeners will recognize Nemorino's aria, "Una Furtiva Lagrima," - in fact, I'd guess it's many opera fans' first favorite tenor aria.  Polenzani's rendition is not virtuosic, yet it's quite touching, in a way that fits the character very well.

In contrast, much of the humor of the story comes from Dulcamara, and D'Arcangelo stole the show at times with his suave fast-talking (er, singing).  Yende as the lead soprano did a fine job, though I was more impressed by her acting skills as the flirty yet affectionate Adina.  She is a natural for these Live in HD shows, where the close-up camera angles capture every emotion of the performer, something opera singers of the past did not need to think about.  (It used to be that over-exaggerated facial expressions were necessary to reach far into the auditorium - now, subtlety is imperative for televised or filmed productions.)

While not my favorite opera, L'Elisir d'Amore was pretty fun for a lighthearted story, and I would be open to going to more comedies in the future.

Wednesday Quote: Holmes


It's Valentine's Day, and what better time to feature a quote from the lovable Sherlock Holmes?  A self-described scientist who belittles sentiment, Holmes nonetheless often plays the role of knight-in-shining-armor, as in "The Speckled Band."  I love this clip from the TV episode starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke as Watson.  The dialogue is almost word-for-word from the book! 

Also, if you're interested in more costume dramas from books, I talked about some of my favorites in this week's Classics Considered episode.  Always on the lookout for recommendations, too.  :)

As far as novels go, I've found an interesting read in Embers, by Hungarian author Sandor Marai.  "Interesting" may be an understatement; I can hardly put it down.  Look for that review in the upcoming week... 

Top Ten Classics Still TBR

This Top Ten Tuesday theme is about books that have been on the TBR list the longest.  It's been a busy week, but the topic appealed to me so much I didn't want to miss out, even if late. Here's what I have, according to Goodreads:

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806
1. The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
At one point in high school, I had started this and even intended to write thoughts on each section.  I think I will read it someday, but now I'd like to start with Democracy in America or Common Sense (which are as equally embarrassing to have not read).

2. The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley
One of my favorite film scenes is the duel between Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power.  I'm sure this is a book I'll enjoy, but somehow I keep forgetting to read it. 

3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
With Charlotte's The Professor, this will be the last Brontë novel for me to read.  I've been remembering it lately, so hopefully in the next year or two it will get read! 

4. Hornblower and the Hotspur, by C. S. Forester
Third chronological book in the series.  I love the Hornblower TV series, but the first two books seemed boring by comparison.  (I really want to find a great Royal Navy book series at some point.)

5. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
From what I've heard, this one warrants a serious investment of time and concentration.  Someday... 

6. Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott
Social commentary in the form of math humor?  This sounds fun, but again, I sense it may take more brain work than I can spare at present. 

7. The Aeneid, by Virgil
I started this one once. 

8. Nostromo, by Joseph Conrad
I started this one several times.  Conrad is a bit hit-and-miss for me.  From the subject matter - turmoil in a fictitious South American country - it sounds exactly like a book I will like after I've read it.  It's just terribly hard to get into. 

9. Almayer's Folly, by Joseph Conrad
Been on my list since college.  As with The Mark of Zorro, I have high hopes for this one, and might need to move it to a different list as a reminder. 

10. Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini
Years ago, I followed a blogger who had the opening line at the top of their blog: "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."  I was intrigued.  I love a good swashbuckler so this is staying on the list.

This is a drop in the ocean of my entire TBR list... I wish I had the discipline to stop adding things to it.  At my current reading rate, I won't have the lifespan to read everything there.  It's weird knowing that some of these will never get read, but such is life.  :)

Wednesday Quote: Courage

Moby Dick final chase
"'I will have no man in my boat,' said Starbuck, 'who is not afraid of a whale.' By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward."
Over the years, I've collected various quotes about or related to courage (it is probably my favorite subject for quotes).  This bit of wisdom from Starbuck is something in particular I've carried with me, I suppose subconsciously.  At work, for example, I have some worries and personal insecurities, and instead of trying to ignore them, I've found it's best to acknowledge, think through, then address them, in that order.  Fortunately, my job is worlds easier than Starbuck's...

What I'm Reading: Poetry of the First World War

Going over the top 02

In college I took a history elective on Britain in the 20th century.  That was when I first read poems from WWI and learned it is considered to be, in essence, its own sub-genre.  Since my more recent fascination with T. E. Lawrence, I'd been wanting to return to WWI poetry, so I decided to read this anthology from Macmillan: Poetry of the First World War.

I've been reading it off and on since last fall and am about halfway through.  It's not the kind of subject matter you can simply breeze through.  Right off the bat, there are a couple of cynical, coarse, even insubordinate poems, naturally credited to "Anonymous."  Immediately you get a feeling for the setting, and it is not so neat and tidy as what you see in Downton Abbey, for example. 

From there, the collection goes into various poets by name, including such well-known authors as Graves, Kipling, and even Chesterton.  There is no inclusion of Lawrence's "Dedication" poem, but since the focus seems to be on the Western Front - and were there any other poems from the side fighting the Turks? I have no idea - I am not too surprised it was excluded.  Interestingly, there are a few poems by female writers.  I would have liked to see even more civilian poetry, though again, it's understandable that the military poets are the focus here.

An issue I have with this anthology is the format and structure.  Unlike the Kindle edition, there is no table of contents in the hard copy.  The poems are organized alphabetically by last name, and the biographical information for each author is summarized in the back of the book.  If you already are familiar with the poems, this wouldn't be a problem, but for most people, it is not a very logical organization.

One piece that's particularly stood out to me is "The Rainbow" by Leslie Coulson.  It's not an epic poem, or even a very well written poem, but it's memorable and seems to fall in the middle of the spectrum between the more harsh or gentle poems in the book, without detracting from the horror and honesty of its conclusion.  This is a very good reading of it, too:

Friday Thoughts: Things I Do When I'm Not Reading

(What I really need to do: go outside.)

For better or worse, I'm one of those people that doesn't procrastinate much on things I have to do - work, chores, running errands - but when the end of the day comes around, very often I don't feel like doing what I really want to do (deep down): that is, improve my mind with reading.  My brain says it's too tired to be improved and deserves a break.  I don't really buy it, but I usually end up doing something else anyway, such as:
  • Play solitaire.  Currently obsessed with Scorpion.
  • Watch YouTube videos (sometimes while playing Scorpion.)
  • Watch a TV show with the family.
  • Find more books to read, on Goodreads (ha ha).
  • "Window shop" online.  (And occasional real shopping.)
  • Work from home.  Those pesky emails...
  • Take a nap. 
I have, at various times, experimented with a more rigorous schedule.  Last January (2017), I made myself do a lot of study reading, which was nice in retrospect but a bit wearisome at the time.  Nanowrimo 2016 saw me give up all my spare time - and I mean very nearly all - to building my own story, which was a great experience (it worked!) but not something I've whole-heartedly committed to since then.  

Right now I'm trying to find a good balance between "assigning" time to read and keeping reading fun.  Part of that is just including fun books to read in between more weighty fare.  Last night I started Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night and could hardly put it down, so maybe that will pull me away from the screen for a while.