When I was a kid, I read comic books constantly. Yes, I had a huge comic book collection which came to a Bad End (you can read that Sad Story on the SUNY at Buffalo KELLEY COLLECTION web site). My favorite superhero was THE FLASH but close behind was GREEN LANTERN. The stories were expertly written by John Broome and exquisitely drawn by Gil Kane. DC has been reprinting these classic issues in their SHOWCASE series for a little more than $10 for each thick volume. If you missed these classics when you were growing up, they are well worth a look now. If you grew up reading these wonderful comic books, you need to reread these and take a trip down Memory Lane.
“Listening to finer music and attending concerts on a consistent basis makes your real age about four years younger.” Dr. Michale F. Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic made this statement on the front page of the New York Times Art & Leisure section yesterday. “Whether that’s due to stress relief or other properties, we see deceases in all-cause mortality, reflecting slower aging of arteries as well as cancer-related and environmental factors. Attending sports events like soccer or football offers none of these benefits.” So listen to Murray Perahia’s terrific Bach English Suites and stop aging!
John Mortimer died a few weeks ago and I figured I’d honor his memory by reading one of his books. Rumpole’s Last Case contains seven of Rumpole’s cleverest cases. I should admit right here that I think John Mortimer was one of the best short story writers I’ve ever read. His deceptively simple stories are both cannily constructed and cunningly balanced between the immediate case Rumpole is trying to solve and other, personal, issues of the characters. For example, in “Rumpole and the Old, Old Story” Rumpole and his wife, Hilda (aka “She Who Must Be Obeyed”) separate. Despite that drama, Rumpole goes ahead with his case and finds key evidence. No Rumpole story I’ve ever read has seemed too long. Mortimer never lets the story get bogged down in unnecessary detail. In “Rumpole and the Bright Seraphim” Rumpole takes a role in a court martial. Lesser writers might have spent much of the story structuring the military proceedings, but Mortimer, with just a few flourishes, keeps the story’s momentum. I highly recommend all the Rumpole collections, especially this one. GRADE: A.
Listeners to Helene Grimaud’s BACH either love it or hate it. One reviewer on AMAZON railed that Grimaud doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to play this music. I’ve listened to a lot of Bach over the years and I confess Grimaud’s Bach doesn’t really sound like Bach. As one critic might put it: “She knows all the notes, but she doesn’t have the tune.” I much prefer Murray Perahia playing Bach. The music has better balance. I did like Helene Grimaud’s CD with Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto #5″ and “Piano Sonata #28.” Maybe she understands Beethoven better than she understands Bach. GRADE: C (for BACH) and B (for BEETHOVEN).
A couple generations ago, John O’Hara was a best-selling novelist with hits like Appointment in Samarra, Ten North Frederick, and Butterfield 8 to his credit. Today, O’Hara is best known for his short fiction mostly published in The New Yorker. From the Terrace is rarely mentioned in critical studies of O’Hara, but I think this 900 page whale of a novel contains some of John O’Hara’s best writing. Its story applies to today’s preoccupation with everything economic. O’Hara tracks the rise of Alfred Easton, a banking tycoon. O’Hara takes Easton into the Washington, D. C. corridors of power as money and politics blend into a mix of deal-making and duplicity. If you want an insider’s view of finance and power, From the Terrace takes you there.
I really, really need to stay away from Sam’s Club. Once again, I found a box set of DVDs at an incredible low price. For just $39.99 Sam’s Club has the complete series of WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. AMAZON wants about that for a single season. How Sam’s Club came up with these box sets is a mystery. They don’t appear on the Sam’s Club web site. All I know is that I’ve spent a small fortune at Sam’s Club in the past couple of months buying bargain box sets of M SQUAD, STAR TREK and now WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE. I’m doing my bit to stimulate the economy.
You’re going to hear complaints about Neko Case putting a 32 minute cut of frogs croaking and crickets chirping on her new CD. Ignore such picky criticism. The fourteen songs that precede the nature sounds are well worth listening to. Neko Case has a clear, bright voice and she’s willing to take risks in her quirky songs. Usually classed with “Alternative” music, Case is an artist who is a true original. There are music boxes, organs, pianos, and strange sound effects in her music. If you’re looking for something unique and wonderful, give Middle Cyclone a listen. GRADE: B+
Subterranean Press has taken on a project no mainstream publisher would touch: a 590 page short story collection. The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt consists of 38 short stories. Of course, I’m a fan of “Henry James, This One’s for You.” McDevitt is best known for his Nebula winning novel, Seeker. Most of McDevitt’s best work revolves around anthropological and archeological puzzles on other planets. I consider McDevitt a better novelist than a short story writer, but all the stories in Cryptic are competently written and well worth reading. McDevitt is an Old School SF writer; his short stories have a beginning, middle, and end featuring realistic characters. Cryptic will be another a strong contender for SF awards for Jack McDevitt. GRADE: B+
Take five hot chicks and have them sing Irish songs. That’s the marketing concept behind Celtic Woman. I’ve seen this group on PBS and attended their sold-out concert in Buffalo. Their material runs the gamut from traditional songs like “Danny Boy” and “The Isle of Inisfree” to pop songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away).” In addition to the concert footage on this DVD, there’s an hour documentary about the origin of the Celtic Woman group with one-on-one interviews with each of the women. My favorite, Hayley Westernra, has the best voice, but all the women can sing this material. Either you love this kind of slick commercialism or you don’t. In this case, I do.
In March 1932, a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post asked John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, if he had seen anything like the Great Depression. Keynes replied, “Yes. It was called the Dark Ages and it lasted 400 years.” Liaquat Ahamed’s brilliant Lords of Finance shows how the disastrous decisions by Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve of New York, Emile Morceau of the Banque de France, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, and Hjalmer Schacht of the Reichsbank of Germany led to the Great Depression and World War II. Their stupid decision to adhere to the gold standard plunged the world economy into a death spiral. Winston Churchill is shown as an ambitious bozo. John Maynard Keynes steals every scene he appears in. Lords of Finance has plenty of application to our current economic meltdown. It’s a great piece of analysis and history. GRADE: A