February 21st, 2009


February Books 22) Short Trips [8]: Repercussions, edited by Gary Russell

I got this collection mainly because it had the only Erimem story I had not otherwise read or listened to - "The Gangster's Story", by Jon de Burgh Miller. I was not bowled over by it, or indeed by many of the other stories in the collection, which is built around a theme of people whose survival affects the Web of Time and who are therefore removed from history by the Doctor - completely un-Doctorish behaviour, it seemed to me. I did rather like Kathryn Sullivan's "The Diplomat's Story", but otherwise you can give this one a miss.

February Books 23) The Odyssey, by Homer

This is the translation of The Odyssey by T.E. Lawrence. The narrative is, of course, very dense, as you would expect from transposing epic poetry into prose, and I rather felt that I should read it again some time over a period of weeks, taking one of the 24 chapters each day in several translations. The central narrative has more of Odysseus' son Telemachus than I had realised - he goes off on an initial quest for his father and then is instrumental in engineering his return to Ithaca. I was also startled by the brutal violence with which Odysseus and Telemachus dispose of Penelope's suitors and the maidservants. Most of the stories I already knew from other reading, but it was interesting to get a sense of the original.

February Books 24) Rocks of Ages, by Stephen Jay Gould

In Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Gould makes a strong and eloquent case that science and religion can and do normally get on just fine; that despite the extremes of creationists on the one side and (though Gould does not name him) Richard Dawkins on the other, in fact most practitioners of both science and religion recognise that they are answering different questions, and are sensible enough to stay out of areas in which they are not experts. I agreed with almost everything in it, and recommend the book to anyone interested in a saner take on the issue than we sometimes get.

February Books 25) Kosovo: What Everyone Needs To Know, by Tim Judah

In this short book, Economist correspondent Tim Judah has simply put down on paper the basics about Kosovo, up to the declaration of independence about a year ago. I know the author well and I know the subject well, so I may be biased, but it seemed to me a good and pretty neutral guide to the facts about Kosovo's history, and the problematic future of its relations with the EU and its neighbourhood. (Though I still don't believe Carla del Ponte's organ-legging story deserves any airtime - Doug Muir fisked it ages ago.) Recommended for anyone wanting a quick decent guide: I wish there were similar books for Bosnia and Macedonia.

The Winter's Tale

After Boskone last weekend I spent Monday and Tuesday in DC, and Wednesday and Thursday in NY (and took Friday off for a personal project which I shall describe in due course). I was too occupied with work and sleep to socialise much - will try and give friends in the relevant cities a shout next time - but my one excursion was a pretty good one, to see The Winter's Tale in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

It's not a play I know at all - literally my only previous encounter with it was as background to Franz Fühmann's short story "Böhmen am Meer" which I did for German A-level, and I haven't reached it yet in my Arkangel Shakespearethon. The running time of the Brooklyn version was two and a half hours counting the interval, so I guess it may have been cut a bit. The key dramatic point is the jealousy of King Leontes of Sicilia over his wife Hermione's friendship with King Polixenes of Bohemia; their baby daughter is abandoned and the end of the play has her reuniting with the family and all end happily paired off. There's quite a strong contrast between the tragic drama of the first half and the slightly magical comedy of the resolution, and I was surprised at the number of snickers from the audience at some of the earlier lines which seemed to me dramatic rather than humorous.

This production is ever so slightly star-studded: directed by Sam Mendes, cast including Simon Russell Beale (Leontes), Ethan Hawke (Autolycus), Sinead Cusack (Paulina) and Rebecca Hall (Hermione). All of them really impressed me, as did Richard Easton in the smaller parts of the Old Shepherd and Time. The Sicilians are by and large played by Brits, and the Bohemians mostly by Americans; I particularly liked the bucolic bluegrass setting of the scenes with the Bohemian shepherds, though felt the Sicilian court was a bit less adventurously staged. But generally, I had a great time.