News and Notes
German artist Kurt Schwitters had already toyed with and discarded several methods of painting when, at the age of 23, he turned to what he called "Merz" -- artwork that combined both found and created objects. A card-carrying member of the Dada movement, Schwitters produced collages that somehow seem more inviting than many of the abstract pieces of his peers.
Coming of Age in the Milky Way
Ferris looks at the way man's scientific view of the universe has changed through history and how that view has altered religion, philosophy, and politics. Although full of theoretical astronomy and physics, it never gets bogged down with overly complex language and remains fascinating and readable throughout.
Blonde on Blonde
Double-album masterpiece Blonde on Blonde offers a couple of Dylan standards, such as "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and "Just Like a Woman," but the real gems here are the longer pieces. The rambling lyrical landscapes of "Visions of Johanna" and "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" are powerful backdrops to Dylan's lightning-strike poetic brilliance.
The Book of Daniel
Novelist E.L. Doctorow's work often crosses the blurred line between story and history. Here he offers a fictional account of real-life spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, focusing primarily on the couple's troubled children and how they deal with their parents' actions and eventual execution. The novel elegantly captures the essential culture of the American communist movement, from the innocuous gatherings of the fifties to the misguided violence of the sixties.
Subtitled "a set of stories, together with a group of oddments and diversions, all drawn from the universe of mathematics," this anthology is not aimed at the Ph.D. candidate, but rather the layman. As a result, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to enjoy these quirky tales and poems, from Robert Heinlein's "--And He Built a Crooked House," a story about the difficulties of 4-dimensional home design, to the classic limerick:
There was a young lady named Bright,
Who traveled much faster than light.
She started one day
In the relative way,
And returned on the previous night.
This novel of 19th-century Italy is stunning not only in its historical and psychological truth, but also in the sheer sensual beauty of Lampedusa's narrative. Of course, credit should be duly awarded to translator Archibald Colquhoun, although I'm sure he would convey most of it back to the original author. Of particular note is Lampedusa's infrequent (yet very affecting) use of distant "flash-forwards" -- never do you appreciate the fictive dream more than when it is jarringly interrupted.
Talking With the Taxman About Poetry
Bragg burst onto the music scene in the early eighties with an electric guitar, a socialist agenda, and an uncanny knack for writing simple, narrative love songs. His first two albums offer several classics, such as "A New England" and "The Saturday Boy," but it's Talking With the Taxman... that is perhaps Bragg's most compelling musical creation. From the heartbreaking "Levi Stubbs' Tears" to the anthemic "Help Save the Youth of America," the entire album marries beautifully Bragg's lyrical gifts, musical energy, and philosophical soul.
Poet, playwright, philosopher, essayist, and all-around smart guy, W. B. Yeats' lines have been recycled by countless writers, singers, and politicians. How many can you recognize?
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somehwere in the sand of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twent centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
"A curtain of glistening white flakes was falling ceaselessly towards the ground, blurring outlines and powdering every object with an icy coating. In the deep silence of the town, buried in a wintry calm, nothing could be heard but in that vague, indefinable, rustling whisper, felt rather than heard, of the falling snow, a mingling of airy particles which seemed to be filling the sky and covering the world."
-- from "Boule de Suif"
In The Moviegoer, perhaps the greatest American existential novel, Percy uses his trademark humor and pathos to tell the story of Binx Bolling, who finds comfort in the world of movies, where good and evil are clearly defined. Finally, it's Percy portrayal of the troubling and complex world outside the moviehouse that makes the novel resonate. It will stay with you long after the credits roll.
There are certain films, such as Casablanca, Annie Hall, and Planet of the Apes, that no matter how many times I've seen them, no matter how indelibly the storyline, dialogue, and ultimate resolution are etched into my brain, and no matter how many pejorative critical evaluations and assertions of unacknowledged mediocrity I guiltily read, that I simply cannot stop watching once I've started. Perhaps it's just the pleasure of seeing a story well-told, or perhaps it's the difference between watching a movie with your heart instead of your head.
Callahan is the most offensive quadriplegic cartoonist around. Okay okay, so he's the most offensive cartoonist period, and thus the kind of humorist that you either inherently despise or instantly love. Even if you fall into the latter camp, chances are you'll still be mortified by some of his more extreme cartoons. In any case, you owe it to yourself to check out his gallery of hilarious human grotesqueries.
The finest story writer in Canada might just also be the finest anywhere. Set for the most part in rural Canada, these 28 stories span 30 years of the career of a rare writer who only writes stories. Munro's concentration on the form gives each story the weight and breadth of a novel. "Miles City, Montana," "Differently," and "The Progress of Love" are among the best of a collection that will consistently surprise and reward.
The Red and Orange Poems
After spending the sixties apprenticing with Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Miles Davis, Gary Bartz spent the seventies moving away from his hard bop roots to a more eclectic mix of funk, blues, spoken-word, and pop -- what he termed, "American music." The Red and Orange Poems, like much of his recent work, is closer to the mainstream school of Parker and Coltrane, yet Bartz's arrangements remain adventurous to the last. Highlights: "Nusia's Poem" and "But Not for Me."
1997 is the year that digital cameras came of age. In the past 18 months, the market has expanded from two or three models to more than twenty, ranging in price from $200 to $20,000. With the convergence of affordable cameras, like Sony's Mavica, and color ink-jet printers, it looks like film has a pretty good shot at going the way of vinyl recordings.
The Way Things Work
Filled with full-color cartoons and written in clear prose, this is a must-have reference for anyone interested in the mechanics of everyday contraptions. From lawn sprinklers and automobile engines to electric guitars and nuclear reactors, MacAulay illustrates the scientific principles that drive the machines we often take for granted.
Originally known as Europa, this film put Danish director von Trier on the map. It opens with Max von Sydow's hypnotic narration and closes with one of the most powerful visual sequences in recent film history. The story is ostensibly about a young American who goes to work as an apprentice railway conductor in post-war Nazi Germany, but the main attraction is the surreal allegorical atmosphere that von Trier so masterfully evokes throughout.
The Complete Fairy Tales
Long before they were plundered, sanitized, and animated, the tales of Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Cap, and hundreds of others were lovingly collected by a German family named Grimm. Sure, all your favorites are here -- Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel -- but the real joy comes from the little-known characters that populate these stories. Don't miss "Jorinda and Joringel," "The King of the Golden Mountain," or "The Devil's Sooty Brother."
The King of Babylon Shall Not Come Against You
Constantly shifting time and point-of-view, Garrett's latest novel reads like Tristram Shandy as written by Faulkner. It starts as a detective novel, becomes a meditation on Martin Luther King, and ends as a whirlwind tour through the absurdities of the twentieth century. One of the last true American men of letters, Garrett is a critic, poet, essayist, and novelist of astounding talent, and he generously fills this book with jokes, history, and a colorful cast of characters. Think of it as Southern gothic meets burlesque.
On their second release, Weezer expands on the guitar heroics that served them so well on their self-titled debut. Songs like "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life" ring out with the same urgency as 1994's "My Name is Jonas," but finally there is something more here. The darker themes at work on Pinkerton succeed in making this album stay memorable beyond the reverberating power chords.
A master of light and detail, Vermeer only produced 35 paintings in his short life. Yet, despite this relatively small output, the Dutch artist has become perhaps the most beloved painter of all time. The recent exhibit at Washington's National Gallery of Art gathered together 23 works, providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy the mesmerizing depth of Vermeer's simple scenes.
Where I'm Calling From
At the time of his death in 1988, Raymond Carver was foremost among American "minimalists," but this collection shows that there was more to Carver than trailer parks and alcoholics. His ear for dialogue and ability to capture the subtler emotions of desperation and longing put him in the company of the master storytellers. The seven later stories, including the brilliant "Errand," show that he was just breaking the surface of his greatness.
Dancing After Hours
Andre Dubus writes about the mysteries of living and the faith that it often takes to simply go on. Collected over the last ten years, these fourteen stories go beyond their beautifully rendered details to a level of emotional redemption rarely found in today's fiction. Don't miss "The Lover," "Out of the Snow," "The Colonel's Wife," or the title story.
A Prescription for the Blues
As the title suggests, Horace Silver's latest album is infectiously upbeat. Pioneer of "hard bop" and co-founder (along with Art Blakey) of the Jazz Messengers, Silver's best work may have come in the sixties -- Doin' the Thing is a classic -- but at 69, he's still producing great music.
Brothers and Keepers
Two brothers from the same house, the same family, and the same neighborhood. One becomes a prize-winning novelist, the other a murderer. There is a fine line between good citizen and bad, and just who crosses that line and why is the mystery at the center of this disturbing memoir.
Best known for his collaboration with writer James Agee, Walker Evans was more than just the eyes behind Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. His Farm Security Administration work still stands today as a powerful record of the rural South during the Depression era. And although he is often held up as the ultimate "objective" photographer, Evans carefully composed his images, sometimes waiting hours to capture the perfect moment.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has released two movies this year. His latest, Boogie Nights, is getting a lot of critical and popular acclaim, but his debut feature film, Hard Eight, is the far superior product. If you've seen Nights, then you'll recognize many of the same actors, themes, shots, and music in Hard Eight. The main difference is in the quality of the characters and their dialogue. Sure, some of the speeches fall a little flat, but the people that populate this tale of crime and redemption among the craps tables of Reno are a far more appealing bunch than Boogie Nights' stable of coked-out airheads. Philip Baker Hall's performance alone is worth the price of the video rental.
Crossing to Safety
The late Wallace Stegner wrote more than a dozen books, and Crossing to Safety just might be the best of the bunch. Written in strong, clean prose, this novel looks at the effects of time on friendships and marriages and asks eternal questions about the permanence of love. Stegner was never more in control of his subject or his art.
When your neighbors have a party and don't invite you, but instead they tumble out into the yard and dance like sorority pledges to the strains of the B-52's "Love Shack" played over and over and over again, that's when you pour a glass of Maker's Mark, put your speakers in the window, and crank the Steve-Albini-produced Tweez as loud as it'll go.