Archive for October, 2010

Censoring an Iranian Love Story, by Shahriar Mandanipour

October 21, 2010

[Lesley]

What an interesting book!  The narrator is an Iranian novelist who wants to write the perfect love story but he knows he is fighting against the official censorship in the Iranian publishing industry.  As a result, the reader sees every word — the ones that won’t be accepted by the censor are crossed out, the ones that will appear in the love story without censure are in italics and the narrator’s commentary (about Iranian literature, folklore, publishing, politics, etc.) are in plain text.  Amongst all of this we get a very interesting perspective on modern Iranian life as well as history and a very long allegorical tradition. 

The author was unable to publish his fiction from 1992 – 1997 due to censorship.  This novel has been compared with 1984, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Anna Karenina for its look into another culture.  I think it would make for a great book discussion title as well.

Read more (including a reader’s guide of questions) at: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307269782&view=rg

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Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton

October 5, 2010

[Lesley]

If you sometimes watch the food channel or read the food section of the newspaper, are or have been the parent of a young child, or like to laugh then you will like this book.  Amster-Burton is a food writer and self-described “foodie” who is learning about raising a picky eater (as all children are) and trying to do it on his own terms.  The things his daughter comes out with won’t surprise many parents – but they will make you laugh out loud.  Even when the 4-year-old wants to eat nothing but pizza, Amster-Burton keeps cooking interesting things and finds new ways to get her involved and trying new things.  Many of his recipes are included and were completely new to me — bonus!

Music Review – Taylor Swift

October 4, 2010

[Bill L.]

I really did not intend to write this. But hearing “Mine” for the first time a week or two ago I thought to myself that one really shouldn’t like the music of Taylor Swift. I mean really one should not and for a long time I didn’t. For one thing it is staggeringly popular. For another Ms. Swift is staggeringly beautiful and although she had nothing to do with the second observation she has had everything to do with the first. Another thing is that she is apparently a very nice and kind person. She is very supportive to her legions of fans and actually helps them when she can. And of course she is a celeb with a capital “C”. Therefore her music is really is easy to dislike—especially if you haven’t listened to it  and that was how I felt. Now, however, I really enjoy it, if not quite love it. Why the change? My co-worker and friend Lucia  suggested [about this time last year] that I take a really good listen to her [Taylor not Lucia that is…], which after considerable argument I did and I changed my mind.

Take her new single “Mine” from her third album, that is to be released October 25th  for example. “Mine” shows considerable growth from earlier efforts. She certainly does absorb life and its vicissitudes like a sponge. Do you recall when you were twenty years old? This ability to absorb experiences can be a good thing, especially if you write songs.

 Ms Swift has the gift of smooth as silk vocals with just a touch of a southern twang. And one does wonder if it is affected–as she is from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, hardly the deep South. It is not for me to say [for unlike Ms, Swift I have not been west—of the Tanglewood Shed in the Berkshires… and being a New Hampshire Yankee have no intention of ever doing so] as it really doesn’t matter and greatly increases her appeal with country/western fans. Or Pop fans or vice versa. Which would appear to be the reasoning. And lest I be accused of picking nits my observation is not mean spirited as it does not in any way detract from her brilliance and ability. And anyone at a keyboard with no talent can always complain about something…

 Yet, the music of the Pop/Country sensation Taylor Swift offers very little, If anything, to complain about. Those who do are in my mind either intensely jealous or have not taken the time to listen. She plays the guitar surprisingly well and her tunes are at least as good as her contemporaries. And if some ex-boyfriends complain that she writes songs about them being nasty to her perhaps they should not have been so nasty when they were dating. A good lesson here gals.

 It is probably safe to say that anyone who is moved to write  prose, music or poetry is doing so for the most part because they must. They usually have no choice. They have to get it out of themselves. There are some like the Strauss and Bach Families who have a genetic and familial ability to do so. Others like Wagner or Beethoven were consumed with musical visions to the exclusion of almost all other worldly attractions. And their works show it. We could speak of  the elegant Elgar, the suave Handel and Vivaldi who  wrote scores, lyrics and opera prodigiously.

 Where does this young woman fit in with the musical giants I have just mentioned? Certainly she is not Wagner or Handel. At least not yet. But if Ms. Swift continues at this rate and does not succumb to the temptations and evils of fame she may very well become great in the manner of Joan Baez or Carol King or even better. No mean feat. We can forgive her penchant for “glitter and sparkly dresses”, there are worse [by far] things in this world to like and enjoy. And certainly not a problem for one who is only twenty one years old.

 It is not for nothing that Lady Gaga, no shrinking violet herself, has entitled two CDs “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster”. And that many of her songs deal with the curse of fame. The terror of the telephone and the horror of the Paparazzi. See Princess Diana Spencer Windsor for details on this one. For in our world  today fame is a modern Grendel—the beast from Beowulf that devours all those that it encounters. The beast that is impervious to all weapons. One only has to look at Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison [for those who remember] or a host of others who are dead or destroyed by fame.

 I hope that this will not happen to Taylor Swift. I await the release of her third album. I also hope that we all might enjoy for years to come her delightful voice, her clever tunes and double edged lyrics that speak to experiences that those 20, 30 or 40 years older struggle to express. Brava, Taylor! Brava!

 bill littlefield