Raymond Carver once said that Anton Chekhov was the best short story writer that ever lived. If you haven’t read any Chekhov, or you read the old translations by Constance Garnett, you might want to pick up this copy of Chekhov’s short stories with new translations by Rosamund Bartlett. Bartlett makes Chekhov’s sentences less clunky and modernizes the language from the Garnett translation that’s a hundred years old. This collection presents the wide range of Chekhov’s stories. “The Huntsman” (1885) is an early story about a huntsman who has been tricked into marrying a poor woman. The title story, “About Love” (1898) is part of a trilogy of stories that include “The Man in the Case” (1898) and “Gooseberries” (1898) about two men on a summer hunting trip. All three stories explore aspects of freedom. This collection includes what many consider Chekhov’s best story, “The Lady With the Little Dog” (1899). Chekhov presents some conflicting ideas about love and marriage in this story and leaves the reader pondering questions with no easy answers. I highly recommend this marvelous collection. GRADE: A
(This completes the January 2010 portion of my Short Story Reading Challenge. I will read and review one short story collection per month in 2010. To find out more about the Short Story Reading Challenge click: Short Story Reading Challenge.)
Dan Chaon is a crafty writer. First, he lures you in with a story of a young man who has had his hand severed under suspicious circumstances. Then, the story jumps to a history teacher and a former student who decide to “disappear.” Finally, a third story line about a brother who is searching for his twin emerges. All three story lines run parallel to each other until around page 200 when they start to intersect and the enormity of the relationships among the characters starts to crystallize. Chaon juggles all three plots deftly until he blends them together. This takes some getting used to at the beginning of Await Your Reply, but if you stay with it as the plots unfold, you’ll enjoy a masterful, suspenseful performance. GRADE: A-
Harry Whittington wrote Web of Murder in 1958, but the plot is still fresh. A successful lawyer, Charley Brower, falls in lust with his smoldering secretary, Laura. But Charley is married to Cora, a very wealthy woman. Charley and Laura decide to kill Cora and live on her fortune. However, as often happens in these noir novels, things go wrong. Really wrong. The Black Lizard edition of this book has a bonus essay by Harry Whittington talking about his career and thanking Bill Crider for the “best of the paperback pioneers” moniker. You can find this informative essay in Black Lizard editions of Forgive Me, Killer, Fires That Destroy, Ticket to Hell, The Devil Wears Wings, and A Moment to Prey. If you haven’t read Harry Whittington, Web of Murder would be a great book to start with.
In 1953, Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine and it was an instant sensation. The first issue featured Marilyn Monroe and sold out in days becoming one of the most collectible men’s magazines of all time. Through the 1950s Playboy featured Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, and Brigitte Bardot. Hefner’s editing strategy included in-depth interviews with prominent figures; serious literature by such writers as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Kerouac; and for the art of illustrators like LeRoy Neiman, Shel Silverstein, and Alberto Vargas. These early issues are hard to find today and pricey when you do, which is what makes this digital collection so significant—every page of every issue of Playboy from the 1950s is stored in color on a DVD-ROM archive, complete with a powerful search engine for Mac and PC computers. The facsimile reproduction of the premier issue of Playboy with Marilyn Monroe is a bonus! This set lists for $100. You can buy it for $29.95 at salesbooks.com. What a great deal!
Graywolf Press publishes “The Art of” series as an aid to writers and wannabes. But, you don’t have to be a writer to enjoy Joan Silber’s tour of time. From a detailed analysis of The Great Gatsby to Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude to Katherine Anne Porter, Silber shows how writers use time to tell their stories. Some stories use a triangle approach. Some use a spiral approach. Some writers tell a story backwards. Silber reveals the tricks Poe, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Chekhov, Henry James, and many other writers employ to structure their stories. This slim book, only 114 pages, can be read in one sitting. But you’ll be thinking about what Silber writes for a long, long time. GRADE: A
Liam Pennywell, teaching at a second-rate private school, loses his job just as he turns 60. He decides to move to a new, smaller apartment in Baltimore. Liam’s life changes and Anne Tyler delivers her patented “slice-of-life” novel. Will Liam have an affair? Will he find a new job? Will he draw closer to his children and his ex-wife? If you read this novel, you probably won’t like the answers. Noah’s Compass is Number Three on the New York Times Best Sellers List so there’s an audience that likes this kind of mundane novel. GRADE: B-
Earl Wild, the America virtuoso pianist, died on Saturday, January 23, 2010. Earl Wild impressed me as a performer who could do everything well. Art Scott loves Wild’s Brahams CD. I love that, and Wild’s Chopin. In fact, I love all the Earl Wild CDs I own. The man was without pretension. And, that might explain why Earl Wild is not more well known. He never stayed with one record company for long. He jumped around. Over time, Wild’s recordings went out-of-print. Recently, there has been an attempt to rescue many of Earl Wild’s wonderful performances and make them available to the public again. Go to http://www.earlwild.com/ find out more about this gifted performer and to order some of his wonderful music.
Ashanti was just one of the stars who showed up to help on ABC’s EXTREME MAKEOVER HOME EDITION: BUFFALO. You’ll see stars sprinkled in throughout the program which airs tonight at 8 P.M. EDT here (check your local listings). The EXTREME MAKEOVER crew came to one of Buffalo’s worst neighborhoods and built a fabulous new house (above) for a deserving woman and her family. But, they didn’t stop there. The building crew went up and down the street fixing roofs, painting houses, and conducting general repairs. The whole neighborhood was revitalized! And all of this work was done in ONE WEEK! Why can’t Government do something like this? There have been numerous “urban renewal” projects in Buffalo, but none of them had the impact of the work done by this reality TV program. Something is very, very wrong with our housing policies. Watch this program, and I’ll guarantee your eyes will get misty.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, and Fergie. With all that star power, how could you make a bad movie? Well, Rob Marshall, the director of Nine, did. Nine sucks. It’s a musical, but the music sucks, too. Not a memorable song in the film. The story is adapted from Fellini’s 8 1/2 where a director with writer’s block is trying to make a movie. He smokes a lot, has sex a lot, imagines what his film might be like which kicks off the big musical numbers (which suck), and generally obsesses over his hypochondria. The actors bravely try to breathe some life into this corpse, but it was dead on arrival. Nine opened and closed here in two weeks. It seems like Hollywood doesn’t know how to make musicals or westerns any more. GRADE: F
Remember when people used to listen to song lyrics? And the lyrics were clever and made sense? Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote over a hundred hits during the 1960s: songs like “Locomotion” by Little Eva and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” by the Shirelles. This collection brings together a nice mix of Goffin and King’s familiar and not-so familiar songs. This is great music just dripping with memories!
1. He’s In Town – THE TOKENS
2. Let Me Get Close To You – SKEETER DAVIS
3. Halfway To Paradise (Stereo album version) – TONY ORLANDO
4. The Idol – BOBBY VEE
5. The First And Last – THE CHIFFONS
6. Brand New Man – RICHARD `POPCORN’ WYLIE
7. Another Night With The Boys – THE DRIFTERS
8. Heaven Is Being With You – JACKIE DeSHANNON
9. I Didn’t Have Any Summer Romance – THE SATISFACTIONS
10. Love Eyes – BERTELL DACHE
11. Don’t Ever Change – THE CRICKETS
12. I’ll Love You For A While – JILL JACKSON
13. I Was There – LENNY WELCH
14. I Just Can’t Say Goodbye – BOBBY RYDELL
15. I Can’t Hear You – BETTY EVERETT
16. Just A Little Girl – DONNA LOREN
17. You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today – THE EVERLY BROTHERS
18. Hey Everybody – RAMONA KING
19. I Can’t Make It Alone (Mono Single Version) – PJ PROBY
20. Some Of Your Lovin’ – THE HONEY BEES
21. A Man Without A Dream – THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS
22. Don’t Bring Me Down – THE ANIMALS
23. Wasn’t Born To Follow – DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
24. So Much Love – BEN E KING
25. Yours Until Tomorrow – DEE DEE WARWICK
26. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – ARETHA FRANKLIN