Monday, October 15, 2018

One Man Romeo and Juliet by Shelby Bond

We had a busy weekend, but the highlight for me was seeing "One Man Romeo and Juliet" by Shelby Bond. He has performed it at many spots around the world, and hopefully you'll get a chance to see it live. There is a lot of audience participation, and despite the title the kids had a chance to play parts in it, too. Bond is nonstop and changes roles in the blink of an eye. Judging by the line after the show to meet (and tip) him, I wasn't the only one that enjoyed it. Here's a trailer for the show and some links to more of his work. I'm looking forward to seeing the show he does at the Dickens Fair later this year. Enjoy!

Shelby's home page, with links to other characters/projects

His YouTube videos

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

At the risk of excessive exultation

The other major find yesterday was a "new" used copy of La Regenta, retiring the pictured copy being held together by rubber bands. While I have many fond memories of piecing together the old copy (literally) while reading it, I'm hoping this one survives re-readings. Which I hope to do soon. First, though, I'll need to finish and post on Galdos' La desheredada / The Disinherited, a pivotal book in an impressive career.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Do you keep track of your books?

Yesterday I was in a used bookstore and they had several Library of America books in good shape, ranging from $8 to $12. I wanted to pick up several of them, but a few of the books were by authors that had multiple volumes in the series. A couple of them I knew I didn't have, but a couple of books I wasn't sure if I had them or not (due to forgetfulness and a family member "borrowing" and not returning one). I was wishing I had a list or database of some sort to check against, so I was wondering if anyone kept track of their books for just such a situation. It seems like overkill, but I'm not always going to be able to text my boys to send me pictures of the bookcase so I could see if I already had a certain book.

I thought I wouldn't need such a list for too many books or series, but after buying a used history book to replace one I thought I had culled (and had not), I'm wondering if I need to include more in such a database/list. So do any of you keep such a list for your books? And if so, how do you do it?

Thanks! Oh, by the way, here's the first picture my son sent me to make sure he had the right bookcase. I'll need to take better pictures of the bookcases on our landing and post them after I rearrange them to fit the latest acquisitions. They came about totally by accident, but I dearly love them.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


There's no way to summarize California in just one picture, but this one covers a few aspects.

This picture was taken a couple of hours before sunset on August 5th at Manresa State Beach, a few miles south of Santa Cruz. There's a church holding baptisms in the ocean while surfers are enjoying waist-chest high sets and I just had to try to capture it. There would be many more surfers joining soon after the organized religious rituals were finished.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Choose your madness: King Lear or King Lear. Or King Lear.

Later this month (at least in some locations) you can choose the form of madness you wish to see:

  • On Thursday, September 27, 2018 in select theaters is King Lear with Ian McKellen. The blurb at National Theatre Live:
    Broadcast live from London’s West End, see Ian McKellen’s ‘extraordinarily moving portrayal’ (Independent) of King Lear in cinemas.

    Chichester Festival Theatre’s production received five-star reviews for its sell-out run, and transfers to the West End for a limited season. Jonathan Munby directs this contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s tender, violent, moving and shocking play.
    Click on the above link or the one for Fathom Events to find a venue screening it on the 27th. It will be interesting to compare McKellen's performance now versus that of a decade ago with Trevor Nunn as director (which, coincidentally, is currently airing for free on Amazon Prime).

  • Available on September 28th to Amazon Prime viewers is King Lear with Anthony Hopkins in the title role and directed by Richard Eyre. There's nothing beyond a description of the play on Amazon's site about the film, but plenty to find online from people that have already watched it. For the cast, see

    It's raining Lear.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

On Shout! Factory TV: The Best of Fridays (TV series)

We've had Shout! Factory TV as a mainstay on our TV for a while but a current listing almost escaped my notice, so I wanted to pass it on to anyone else interested. Currently there are a few episodes from the Fridays TV series from their first season on ABC in 1980. I completely missed the entire series when it aired and had completely forgotten about it, so it was nice to see it available. I probably would have loved the skits at the time. Now...ummmm.

The main attractions for me were the musical acts. As you can see from the Musical Guests section on the show's Wikipedia page, there was a great range of acts performing over their three-season run. In the first season (spring and summer 1980), there was a nice mix of what would have been called pop, rock, punk, and new wave at the time. The two available at Shout that I really enjoyed are listed below. I've marked the approximate times in case you want to focus on just the musical performances.

Season 1, Episode 3: The Clash
Only a few months after the release of London Calling, The Clash performed four songs from that album on the show.
(~18 minutes) "London Calling," "Train in Vain"
(~34 minutes) "The Guns of Brixton," "Clampdown"

Season 1, Episode 10: Graham Parker and the Rumour
A couple of songs from The Up Escalator played to a welcoming crowd.
(~24 minutes) "Stupefaction"
(~32 minutes) "Empty Lives"

And for no other reason than to clear some space on my phone, here's a picture of Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz, taken almost exactly three years ago on their U.S. tour. Explore and enjoy!

1979 NY Times article on Anthony Hopkins

In looking up something this morning I ran across the September 9, 1979 New York Times article Anthony Hopkins: ‘Acting Is Like Being in a Public Confessional’, which had been behind a paywall when I was watching and researching the actor starring in Jean-Paul Sartre's play Kean. I had posted a 'bleg' for a copy of Hopkins performance, which I still have yet to see, but if you're interested in the actor or the role I recommend checking out the article while it's available.

I'll include two quotes from the article below. First:
‘It's a comic way of making a living, saying lines, but I can express something through acting. I can express myself through parts. I'm not good at expressing myself otherwise.’ Mr. Hopkins prepared for “Kean”—a demanding role of long, impassioned speeches, mercurial changes of mood, drawing‐room repartee—as he always does, by learning his lines, “Laurence Olivier has said, ‘Learn as much as you can, then throw the text away,’ ” Mr. Hopkins said. “And it was something Noel Coward used to require. I like to learn lines. I feel secure. I learn the whole part parrot fashion, by rote even for television and movies where the filming, of course, is done in segments.
Mr. Hopkins also read a couple of biographies of Edmund Kean and discovered that Sartre's play, a slapstick farce delightfully out of keeping with the playwright's more serious image, really has little to do with fact. For. instance, In the Sartre play, Kean and the Prince of Wales are rivals for the affections of an ambassador's wife.

“Kean did not have a friendship with Wales,” said Mr. Hopkins. “And Kean had only one known affair. He was not really a womanizer. He was obsessed with acting and drinking. He wanted to be a buffoon and was uncomfortable being a celebrity. Kean was used as a prototype by Sartre: the actor trapped by the illusion of the parts he plays. The actor has to be careful not to cross the line between reality and illusion, or he will go mad.”

Does Mr. Hopkins identify with Kean? “I'm a perfectionist. I think it's a vice. I'm very demanding. Kean was also like that. I'm terribly insecure as an actor. It's fear. I've tried to modify it, but I get very wrapped up in work and then lash out because of fear. I don't trust people to do their jobs.

“When Kean did his first performance in London,” he continued, “it was after he had struggled for years in the provinces, as I did. He was offered Shylock. He waded in with an interpretation no one had ever seen. But the audiences loved what he did. He was a very modern actor, with a great eye for detail. But he was very exasperating for the people around him. He wanted to rehearse all the time, like Olivier.”
It's a lengthy article with more information on Hopkins and some of his roles.

My previous posts on Kean can be found here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018
Edited by Laura Furman (Anchor)

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018 contains twenty prize-winning stories chosen from thousands published in literary magazines over the previous year. The winning stories come from a mix of established writers and emerging voices, and are uniformly breathtaking. They are accompanied by essays from the eminent jurors on their favorites, observations from the winning writers on what inspired their stories, and an extensive resource list of magazines that publish short fiction. (from the publisher's page, which also has the book's Introduction, providing synopses for the twenty stories)

I'm not a big reader of short stories, not going out of my way to read many of them. I had heard some buzz about "The Tomb of Wrestling" by Jo Ann Beard, so I checked this book out of the library to read it for myself. I'm glad I did. I may not have loved it as much as some commenters, but it's far and away the strongest story of the ones I've read in this collection so far. It begins, “She struck her attacker in the head with a shovel, a small one that she normally kept in the trunk of her car for moving things off the highway.” The reader finds out there is so much packed into that swing, allowing us to see the lives of Joan and her attacker as they meet in a tense and violent encounter.

I've jumped around to different stories and have enjoyed most of them. Two others I liked, "Stop 'n' Go" by Michael Parker and "How We Eat" by Mark Jude Poirier, are available at the LitHub link below. The latter story takes a strong will in order to handle this dysfunctional family. Also in the book are the jurors' top choices and why they loved them, as well as brief notes from the authors about their stories. Definitely worth checking out. And makes me realize I probably need to visit some of the previous years' collections.

Literary Hub has the list of stories and links to four of them

René Magritte's 1960 painting "The Tomb of the Wrestlers" and a little history behind the inspiration/challenge behind it.

Friday, August 31, 2018

A gift and an old friend

I was happy to get the perfect birthday gift this year—Vladislav Vančura's The End of the Old Times (Konec starých časů). I have been looking for a copy to call my own since I read the book about 4½ years ago. My comments on the book are here. It's a wonderful novel, enjoyable at both a superficial level and also as commentary on pretentious and pretending aristocracy. It has been on my wish list for five years, so I'm extremely grateful to finely get a copy.

The friend is the 1990 Baumard Quarts de Chaume, the last of a case I bought almost 20 years ago. Although it shows further aging potential, it's an old friend I want to enjoy this year. So I'm enjoying a Czech with something from the Loire...consistency has never been a strong point for me. I hope everyone's weekend will be as enjoyable as mine!

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill
Alfred A. Knopf, 2017
Hardcover, 352 pages

The city had a rich, complex life long before you ever came along and started having your own personal little responses to it, Griffin. It’s bigger than you. … The lives lived by generations of New Yorkers in and around a historic building give it all kinds of layers of collective meaning—a patina of memory and grime and experience, really—that you can see, and even feel, if you open yourself to it. (30)

I read this book last year when it was released and intended to post a note on it. Better late than never, I guess. This book got some fanfare in major media when released, but I didn't see much from book bloggers about it. While it may be a little uneven, the parts I enjoyed have stuck with me and I thought worth passing on.

Set in mid-1970's crumbling New York City, the book centers on thirteen-year old Griffin Watts attempting to deal with his fractured family. Caught between warring parents just divorced, Griffin tries to simultaneously hold the family together while protecting his mom from a possibly abusive dad. Part of Griffin's plan is to understand his dad better, especially since he doesn't know exactly what it is he does for a living. Griffin's dad, though, gets easily exasperated by his son, especially when Griffin doesn't share his fixation on the beauty and meaning of architecture to the same extent.

“I don’t know how this happened to you,” he said. “But you, son, are going to learn to look up. You are not going to be another one of those blinkered goddamn New Yorkers who walk around town staring at their shoes, or worse, have their eyes so fixed on whatever goal they’re hurrying toward that they never see the city around them. You are not going to join that complacent army of blind men who went and let a civic cathedral like Penn Station get smashed to pieces right under our noses.” (31)

Unfortunately for Mr. Watts (Griffin's dad), there are plenty of that "complacent army" passively allowing the city to be overhauled. Watts' front as an antiques dealer hides an illicit business of scavenging sculptures and fixtures (including gargoyles) from buildings marked for remodeling or destruction. Watts' architectural education of Griffin starts innocently enough, cleaning molding and helping out around the office, but soon Griffin is assisting in the theft of sculptures off buildings all around the city, risking life and limb in some unconventional bonding moments. His dad's outlook toward learning about buildings and details doesn't initially seem that far out of the mainstream:

“People who study academic lingo learn facts about ornament, but the only way you can really come to know the ornament is by feeling its contours for yourself.” He fixed me with those green eyes of his. “If you do that, Griffin, the whole city will open up to you. You’ll find that you’re suddenly seeing ornamental sculpture, really wonderful stuff you never noticed before, on buildings all over town. You’ll learn to look up.” (47)

It's that outlook that leads to my favorite concept Watts tries to impart: the connection across time that buildings can provide. Or as Watts beautifully puts it,

“The bridge of time is very poignant,” he told me. “I think about the immigrant carvers who came over here and did this work on people’s homes—itinerant nobodies, many of them, with no stable homes of their own—and I meet them across time.” (92)

Griffin realizes that his dad's concerns are really a obsession that soon has Griffin imperiling his life to help his dad. One of Watts' assistants perceptively describes to Griffin what this fixation has done to his dad: “It [collecting] starts out as love. But it becomes something much more grasping and corrosive.”

At the center of most of the book is New York City and the 1970s. The city, caught between bankruptcy and renovation at this time, comes alive not just in Griffin's eyes but for the reader, too. Headlines of the day set the mood that seems reflected in many of the characters, and a lingering mystery—who stole an entire building from the Landmarks Preservation Commission—is given a possible solution.

While the relationship between Griffin and his dad takes center stage, the other people in his life provide important roles beyond just comic relief. His artist mom takes in boarders like some people take in stray animals. His sister seems distracted and Griffin assumes the worst when he tries to solve the mystery of her secret life. Griffin's friends and social life leave a lot to be desired, but then that seems to be the rule for most adolescents. As I mentioned earlier, the book can be uneven at times, and something is lost when the story leaves the city. Even so, I enjoyed it, both for the entertaining look back as well as for the message of possible connections across time.

John Freeman Gill's website, with more links to the book and additional works

The Prologue to the book: "Ghosts of New York"

An interview with Gill at the Los Angeles Review of Books

An interview at Business Insider; also an excerpt

The author talks about some of the processes of discovery in writing the book