books, books, books

This is for all non-EC or peripheral-EC topics. We all know how much we love talking about 'The Man' but sometimes we have other interests.
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Jack of All Parades
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Jul 08, 2010 5:43 pm

Completed a personal road trip by way of reading Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself- A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky.

And what a road trip it must have been for five days back in 1996 as Wallace is breaking into his fame as the novel Infinite Jest is published and he goes out on the road to promote it. What was intended to be a Rolling Stone profile piece and which was never run is now tantalizing notes recorded over those five days.

I remember almost two years ago the viceral pain I felt when I first heard he had hung himself. I wanted to reach out to people to anchor myself. Reading these pages makes me understand how Wallace spent his life trying to do the same thing- reach out and touch others 'honestly' and 'thoughtfully'. These pages present a man who was engaging, funny, erudite[but not dry] and just such a raw emotional nerve. The psychological pain he dealt with on a daily basis is numbing. That he still functioned is impressive; that he struggled is maddening. The pain in his voice is disturbing. He would have made a wonderful friend- the conversation glorious.

I've learned many new things about him- the recreational drug usage, the chewing tobacco habit, the TV addiction. But mostly the continuous thought process; his mind is never on cruise control. And what original thoughts. To me he was the best writer of my generation and certainly the best essayist. I miss seeing a new piece by him in print.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Bezrodny » Tue Jul 13, 2010 7:52 am

Halfway through Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Thu Jul 22, 2010 8:42 am

Been reading a lot of dog training books and no longer have bite marks all up and down my forearms. :D I also tend to start drooling whenever I hear a can opener... And she's entered her teenage years and is being a real punk a lot of the time.

Schooling by Heather McGowan (not a dog training book , I swear). So far so good, more of a slow amble than a frenzied race to the end of a must read. I now have Girls School (Wings!) stuck in my head.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby pophead2k » Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:02 pm

I'm reading 'The Information' by Martin Amis, the first of his I've read. Thoroughly enjoying it so far as I love black comedy in literature. Some themes reminiscent of Murdoch's 'The Black Prince', but handled in a totally different way.

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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Jul 23, 2010 5:16 pm

Pophead- who has not fantasized about getting revenge on an enemy- that book is delicious and the language so 'charged'. You might also enjoy his Success or Money, as well. To be Kingsley's child and to forge your own identity is something.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Aug 20, 2010 3:38 pm

Noting the death of Frank Kermode at 90 on 8/17/2010. We have lost one of the truly great literary critics. It just leaves Christopher Ricks, for me. Mr. Kermode came to teach at my alma mater in the mid 80's , following a distinguished career at Cambridge, too late for me to take a class with him which had I had the chance would have jumped at it. One of the great writers and thinkers about literature. He wasn't wrapped up in theory but he would also not skirt it, writing about books and writers concentrating on the text and where it could take a reader. His prose was not dry and academic but lively and spoke to me as one reader to another living in the actual world. He fostered my love for Wallace Stevens, Shakespeare and the Elizabethans amongst many writers. His book, Shakespeare's Language, is an essential text for me. His essays as they would appear in the London Review of Books were required reading for me. I will miss his penetrating guidance.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/books ... obituaries

Link to a good obituary in the NY Times.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Mon Aug 23, 2010 5:23 pm

Enjoyable time with William Shakespeare and several new books on him- Shakespeare Sex & Love by Stanley Wells and Contested Will Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro. The Wells is just a well informed and spirited run through his oeuvre and how his knowledge and feel for human relations and sex informed his poetry and plays. It is not salacious but quite invigorating as it makes this human aspect of the author a part of his writing. I have a new appreciation for the sonnets.

The Shapiro book is an equally reasoned argument and discussion of the various other author theories that have abounded over the past 300 years. Reasoned, rational and well phrased, I like how Shapiro ultimately comes down on the side of Shakespeare and the power of imagination or as he says the poet who 'could give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name." What an imagination that was!
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Sep 05, 2010 8:10 am

Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory by Lisa Jardine. Extremely interesting history regarding the co-option by England in the 17th century of Dutch culture, science, trade -culminating in the Glorious revolution of 1688 and the bloodless rise to power of William of Orange with his assumption of the English throne. Had not realized the extent of the debt that England owes to the Dutch- Scientific breakthroughs, Newton, Wren, the expansion of trade- the new world of New York- all came out of the Anglo-Dutch relations built in the 17th century culminating in the European Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. An informative read and one that has left me with a stronger appreciation for the pride of my Dutch in-laws.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:17 am

Fun time with a quick read- Shakespeare's Face by Stephanie Nolen. Just a well written detective story involving the discovery of an authenticated painting, quite possibly of Shakespeare, which had been held in the hands of the same family for over 400 years in the later years of the last century. Oddly it had been kept under a bed for many years. It is the only known portrait done of him during his lifetime and he would have been 39 at the time of the painting, circa 1603-05 and at the height of his genius.

It is a mischievous face and there is a delicious smirk on the mouth. The hair is done up in some facsimile of a pseudo Japanese warrior with a tuft of hair on the top. It is quite pleasing to the eye and more to the point gives a much more agreeable likeness than the Folio portrait or the memorial bust that sits in Trinity Church. The man in this portrait looks full of life, attractive and is clearly not the "bladder-faced burgher" that Mark Twain made fun of when he looked at the known portraits of his time. I liked the Antiques Roadshow aspect of the story.

Once again the sonnets provide me with a way to view the portrait and its backstory:

SONNET #138
By William Shakespeare

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearnèd in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth supressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
Oh, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

1609
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Re: books, books, books

Postby mood swung » Tue Sep 14, 2010 7:32 am

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien. Damn, I think I got the title AND the author! Good list book - doesn't feel like work to read. :lol:
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Re: books, books, books

Postby ice nine » Tue Sep 14, 2010 12:44 pm

Christopher-

I am currently listening to a series of podcast that propose that Shakespeare's plays, sonnets, etc. were wwritten by an Elizabethian aristocrate named Edward Devere, Earl of Oxford. He argues that Wm. Shakespeare did not travel to the locations that the plays took place in where Devere travelled throughout Europe and that Shakespeare simply did not have the experiences needed to write what Devere wrote.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Tue Sep 14, 2010 6:53 pm

Ice Nine- you have entered that centuries long argument- who wrote the plays and poems? The Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or the bard himself. While no scholar, I always manage to come down on the side of Shakespeare himself as author of the sublime plays and poems. I do not have trouble believing that a young man could emerge from the backwoods and make his way to London and produce these works. He had an education, Latin, certainly read, and for my belief was touched by a tremendous genius. I also have to think that a young man of his abilities would have encountered so much of the known world in London at that time as he wandered the streets, spent time in the alehouses and whore houses and mingled with people and listened to their stories from around the known world. What a school house to grow up in as a young person.

I also trust that people like Ben Jonson, Donne, Richard Burbage, even George Buc, the court censor- all intimately had knowledge of him and observed what he was capable of producing. They have provided vivid testimony to his genius. Mostly I just want to think that this man was sublimely gifted and made the most of those gifts. You may well enjoy reading James Shapiro's Contested Will Who Wrote Shakespeare?. As I said earlier I share his ultimate conclusion that it is something wonderful to believe that such a man could give "to airy nothing a local habitation and a name."

Mood- that book is a personal favorite. I even have a prized first edition of it. Those stories are the best literature to my mind to come out of the Vietnam experience. They too pass the daughter test as she read them a few years ago and advised me after that they were 'fun' and then she quickly proceded to devour his Vietnam novel Going After Cacciato without my suggestion. A book you might equally enjoy if you have not read it- love the concept of a soldier just lighting out for freedom if only by way of Cambodia.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Sun Sep 19, 2010 5:23 pm

Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' is getting rave reviews, but I still haven't read 'The Corrections'. I sometimes have to pinch myself over the number of significant, talked about, essential books I haven't read.

I am, however, nearly at the end of book 2 of the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy, in which your surname wouldn't be out of place as a suburb name, Herr Sjoholm, or Sjöholm, as the Swedish write it. There are so many place names in the book, particularly in Stockholm, that I'm tempted to get on an aeroplane and go and find them all, or go on one of the no doubt available Larsson tours of the city. The shops are full of books by other Swedish crime thriller writers with 'the new Stieg Larsson' on them. It's quite a while since I read such out and out page turners, my eyes are permanently sore from late night binges.

They're great fun, often far-fetched but very compelling with it. For books on their 20 or 30 somethingth reprint, there's a shocking number of mistakes in the English printings. Needless to say I've written to Quercus to object and offer my services as a proofreeder, but they tell me they're already being proofread for a special new boxset edition they're doing. They thanked me for pointing out that in book 1 Salander's mother is introduced as 46 years old, but in book 2 she is described as dying at 43! The translation is frequently poor as well with non-native constructions and word usages creeping in frequently.

The third of the Swedish films gets a debut at the current Cambridge Film Festival, whilst at the same time there's a US production under way with Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist and someone called Rooney Mara as Salander (she's in the Facebook movie The Social Network, I read). It's a shame poor Stieg popped his clogs at 50 shortly after delivering the manuscripts, and a sad postscript that his partner has lost out to his (estranged, or at least distant) family over royalties.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:44 pm

Var sa god- Otis. You have restored the umlauts to the family name, something we dropped years ago as pronunciation was already daunting for non Swedes, imagine the trepidation of someone attempting with the umlauts in place.

You are right about place names -my youngest daughter is reading the first book and quite enjoying it- I may well follow her. Franzen is of Swedish heritage and we can celebrate as per the Times yesterday his book has replaced Stieg's latest on the top of the bestseller lists here and in Sweden. Unfortunately, his name brings up sad associations today, as he was David Foster Wallace's best friend and I just noted the 2nd anniversary of his untimely passing.

Sjo- is lake[sea] in Swedish with holm being an island- some speculate that the Vikings considered the Baltic and the North Sea their private lakes so it may make sense. My grandfather came to America in the 1920s shipping out as a Merchant man on a freighter- even came through Ellis Island. He emigrated from Sundsvall on the middle Baltic coast of Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia. My sisters and brothers, as well as my father, have seen the homeland. I have not. Too enamoured of other places such as your beloved Iberian peninsula to visit for me- next up Prague. Allthough had my number been lower in 1973 as it pertains to O'Brien's book in the previous post- I might very well have become quickly acquainted with my Swedish cousins.

Thank you for restoring the umlauts.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:59 am

Apparently 'ö' also means 'island' in Swedish!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ö
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Sep 25, 2010 6:36 am

My middle daughter, the budding historian, prompted me to visit this book, Reappraisals by Tony Judt, the recently deceased historian. I am glad I did. Like my daughter, he has an acute ear and eye for the ignorance to the recent past most people have allowed to creep over the events of the past half century. These essays are piquant reminders of the danger we place ourselves in when we fail to learn our history, particularly what has just passed. Judt calls it "the age of forgetting". He finds that most people have little touch with the social and policy debates that occurred in just the last twenty to thirty years. What was once the provence of public intellectuals has now been usurped by dim witted Fox analysts and the Sarah Palin's of the world, robbing us of reasoned public discourse and replacing intelligent debate with fear, lies, ignorance and historical misinformation.

I appreciated his writings on Jewish intellectuals and on the French Left. He also offers a penetrating reminder as to why Edward Said is of value. Reasoned, well written[perhaps some of the best prose I have encountered by an historian], balanced and thought provoking, these are writings that matter and that should be revisited from time to time.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Sep 25, 2010 10:07 am

Not about a book but truly related as it is about Isaac Babel and the passing of his widow Antonina Pirozhkova on 9/12/2010 as reported in the obituary page of Thursday, the 24th, NY Times at the age of 101.

Poignant her's and Babel's story. She herself was quite accomplished as a civil engineer and rose to being chief design engineer for the Moscow Subway system designing many of the crown jewel stations underground. Read with interest how Babel designed a list of the 100 books an educated person should read, reminiscent of Johnny Cash's list of songs for his daughter. Her recollections of her time with Babel are touching. She wrote in her memoirs portraying him as the 'generous, shrewdly observant, subversively witty and, despite the shadow of the executioner's ax, coolly fascinated by the secret police" individual that made him such an arresting writer. The story of her accompanying him to the Lubyanka in a car with two KGB stooges is most telling. She was so fearful she could not speak: Babel sitting next to a thug calmly joked "So, I guess you don't get much sleep, do you?" laughing as he said the words. I expect nothing less from the man who could ride with the Cossacks on horseback during the Revolution and relish the irony of a Jew riding amongst them in the marvelous stories that make up Red Calvary. Let alone the man who could reimagine the gangsters of Odessa.

Her final memory of Babel is quite touching. They kissed and he told her "someday we'll see each other." as he walked into the building and disappeared into history without looking back. All she could think was would someone be kind enough to give him some hot tea as he cannot start his day without it.

That image could easily have come from a Babel story. Another link to that brutality has passed on.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Sun Sep 26, 2010 2:59 pm

What was the building and why did he say farewell before entering it?

I only had one quick ride on the Moscow subway in 1998, but it was awesome. Would love a full tour.

Everyone going mad for Franzen's 'Freedom' over here. I've been meaning to read 'The Corrections' since it came out and never got round to it. It seems to be out of print with a new printing not out till April '11. Eh? Don't these publishers want to make money? I ordered off marketplace, used - very good, hasn't arrived, but couldn't resist a half price hardback £10 Freedom in Waterstones, even if sodding Amazon are selling it for £9. That's pretty amazing for a new hardback and given that the paperback will retail for the same price. I read a page or two and it was delicious. Various wry smiles and moments of recognition. Believe the hype, he's clearly a hell of a writer. Not sure he's been mentioned much round here.

Will do things chronologically and read them in order, once I'm done with Stieg part 3, which I'm now immersed in.

An older American titan, Roth, publishes yet another new book, 'Nemesis'. There's no let up in the pace, even though almost all of the ones from this decade seem to have been met with a disappointed sigh, unlike his 90s output, which was met with the same sort of response as Franzen.

Franzen was likened in the drooling Radio 4 critics show to Joyce Carroll Oates, not someone I've read, but my wife has extensively and is a fan. Anyone here read her? Her parents were Joyce enthusiasts, which is an encouraging start.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:26 pm

Otis, the building was the Lubyanka, the headquarters for the Secret Police and the farewell was because I suspect he knew he was never coming back alive out of there. By all I have ever read, Babel was a plucky person, diminutive in size he yet stood tall with his chutzpah and 'balls' and savage irony.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Otis Westinghouse » Sun Sep 26, 2010 3:33 pm

I see! I didn't connect the two parts of your account.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Sep 26, 2010 5:39 pm

There is a considerable momentum for Freedom over here, as well,complete with Obama being pictured leaving a bookstore during his recent Martha's Vinyard vacation with book in hand. One can purchase a hard cover copy at Borders for about $10.00 and it continues to head the NY Times bestseller list.

Truth be told as much as I enjoyed The Corrections and its marvelous dissection of an American family with its probing but also subtle social and satirical take on contemporary America, I really like more his first novel The Twenty-Seventh City about his home town of St. Louis. I was amazed when I read it by his spot-on ear for dialogue.

I also am a great fan of his non-fiction- the essay collection How To Be Alone and the memoir The Discomfort Zone. The man is singlehandedly restoring the social/cultural realm back to American fiction.

Do not know much about Oates other than she is exceedingly prolific, I think fifty some novels alone and still counting with countless other books and a continuing job as a professor at Princeton. I read her novel them many years ago from 1969. All I remember is that it dissected Detroit from the 1930s to the 60s.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sun Oct 10, 2010 9:10 am

The Poems of Edward Thomas this is a re-acquaintance for me. And a welcome one. How he slipped off my radar I cannot explain. As the last century began he kept alive the tradition of plain versification that goes back to Chaucer and had previously manifested itself in Hardy. God how he hated the "pomp and sweetness" of late Victorian/Edwardian style and the "discord and fuss" of the symbolists including Old Tom who was under their sway; forging instead a vivid reflective style that observed the world around him in plain spoken conversational verse. With his friend Robert Frost, they restored clarity and pure enjoyment and fear of the natural world to poetry, just as Wordsworth had done a century before them. As I read him I see and hear this line of English poetry moving on into Larkin, Davies and Heaney. Slender in volume there are many treasures in this small volume. Here are two:

Digging

To-day I think
Only with scents, - scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot's seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke's smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.

The Thrush

When Winter's ahead,
What can you read in November
That you read in April
When Winter's dead?

I hear the thrush, and I see
Him alone at the end of the lane
Near the bare poplar's tip,
Singing continuously.

Is it more that you know
Than that, even as in April,
So in November,
Winter is gone that must go?

Or is all your lore
Not to call November November,
And April April,
And Winter Winter- no more?

But I know the months all,
And their sweet names, April,
May and June and October,
As you call and call

I must remember
What died into April
And consider what will be born
Of a fair November;

And April I love for what
It was born of, and November
For what it will die in,
What they are and what they are not,

While you love what is kind,
What you can sing in
And love and forget in
All that's ahead and behind.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:02 am

More Tony Judt, this time Ill Fares the Land. As he eloquently and judiciously notes something is extraordinarily wrong with how people think they should live in the world today. He succinctly and honestly and scientifically dissects our current pain brought upon us by our own swallowing hook line and sinker the failed conservative policies and thought of the last thirty some years.

It is hard to fathom the collapse and further proposed destruction of the social contract that helped so many of us in Europe and America since the last World War. I for one, like Judt, no longer feel a fairness in my government- a sense of stability and security. The anger of aging people in this country as they are destabilized is palpable and the cause for it is self-inflicted with the wholesale buy in to the 'nihilistic individualism' of the far Right here in America and Europe and the denigrated 'social democracy' that has fallen so far out of practice. As Judt states emphatically,we need to "value fairness over more efficiency'. I, and Judt, have never had a blind faith that the marketplace will take care of me or my fellow citizens. I know, as Judt states, that such care and concern will only come when one 'entrusts his/her fellow citizens and the state they share'.

Once again Judt displays a lucid, passionate and historically sound argument for his historical points. The man can flat out write an engaging sentence. Here is a taste:

"If we have learned nothing else from the 20th century, we should at least have grasped that the more perfect the answer, the more terrifying its consequences. Incremental improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best we can hope for, and probably all we should should seek. Others have spent the last three decades methodically unraveling and destabilizing them: this should make us much angrier than we are. It ought also to worry us, if only on prudential grounds: why have we been in such a hurry to tear down the dikes laboriously set in place by our predecessors? Are we so sure that there are no floods to come?"

The title too is cautionary thanks to Goldsmith:

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."

Oliver Goldsmith- The Deserted Village 1770
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Thu Oct 21, 2010 4:50 pm

Arm chair traveling this past few weeks, but of a more historical nature going back to 5th and 4th century BC and the Greeks. Three really fun books to explore. The Extraordinary Voyage of Pythias the Greek by Barry Cunliffe, Xenophon's March and Envy of the God's Alexander the Great's Ill Fated Journey Across Asia,both by John Prevas.

The sheer audacity, bravery, chutzpah to set out as these men did is astounding. Pythias basically sailed out the Strait of Gibraltar and went up the coastline of Europe as far as Iceland and Denmark well before the acknowledged later explorers. He spent time in England, as well. The fact that this was done with a skin hide boat boggles me.

Xenophon's trek back to Greece with 10,000 Greek soldiers cut off deep in Persia is a well known and documented event. It forms the basis of the Anabasis. But the detail given to the story and the recreation of the feat in this book is stimulating.

The same goes for the retelling of Alexander's exploits. I can never get enough of his accomplishments and Prevas gives an engaging retelling. I am sufficiently recharged to return to my Thucydides and his great history of the Greek/Persian conflict.
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Re: books, books, books

Postby Jack of All Parades » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:11 am

Have been working my way through the just published Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics [1954-1981] With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim. This is a treasure trove and the title captures with zest the fun that is between the endboards. What I appreciate most about his book is that he still cannot treat the finished words as 'finished'; they still seem to be living constructs for him which he cannot resist revisiting and revising in that eternal quest for him to get it right on the page or in the ear. He is a master of rhyme and every page gives one vivid examples of his skill. He even gives word to my feelings on the subject "lyrics are an unforgiving-ly compact form- less is more". Every writer, even aspirants, should be made to read his convincing argument for using 'exact' and 'properly stressed' rhymes. A real treat throughout is the reproduction of working lyric sheets- the compositional notes and constant editing. His assessments of fellow writers are funny, scathing and most entertaining. PD, you might enjoy this book given your appreciation of the craft of songwriting; beautifully self-critical, this book captures the 'work' that goes into making a good song.
"....there's a merry song that starts in 'I' and ends in 'You', as many famous pop songs do....'


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