Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beautiful little accidents of everyday experience (Books - You Do Not Need Another Self-Helf Book by Sarah Salway)

Sarah Salway, friend and author of the novels Tell Me Everything and Getting the Picture (among others), has just published her first volume of poetry! What better way to ring in March? It boasts the smile-inducing title You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book, and after reading it, you probably won't. The book features verse and prose poems, mostly contemporary subject matter, and a good deal of first-person voice (but not exclusively). They are sexy, reflective, funny, clever, even cheeky, but mostly these are intimate and generous poems. You can feel the poet reaching beyond her comfort to give you something of herself. I admire the way Sarah courts everyday experience, like shopping or little moments of regret, for accidents which reveal something fresh about being inside of our lives, and how she then uses her craft to create something of lasting worth and beauty from them.

I am delighted to participate in her virtual poetry reading by presenting Sarah's own reading of "Dad Plays St George."

Dad Plays St George by Sarah Salway (mp3)

You may purchase the book here: or here.

For other stops on the virtual poetry reading tour, click here for the list of links.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Embracing the paradox (Books - To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf)

I revisited To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf's great meditation on how connection to people and to things we love helps us transcend life's transience. It must have been the third or possibly the fourth time I read it. I had bought a new edition last year as my old one is falling to pieces. I am less inclined to do a full-on review than to make a few appreciative observations.

People most often describe the style of Woolf's prose as stream of consciousness but I was aware in this reading that the cadence was more like speech than thought - as though as I was being read to. This legislated a speed for the progress of my reading that I could not exceed without losing the meaning - a kind of enforced luxuriousness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Representations of Jews changing in film (but only for Jews and only in film?) - (Books The New Jew in Film by Nathan Abrams)

Nathan Abrams, a lecturer in film from Bangor University in Wales, has written The New Jew in Film, about to be released in paperback, about the representation of Jews and various aspects of Jewishness in film since 1990. It's a contemporary take in the era of identity politics, meaning the book is about representations of self in the medium of film. However, in this case, these selves have been historically appropriated and given the role of 'other' by society (at best) or mercilessly persecuted (at worst) for a few thousand years. Abrams traces the evolution of the depiction of Jews in film prior to the last decade. He starts with the classic anti-Semetic stereotype such as the male lascivious money grubber, intellectual nebbish, and hairy sex-addict, and female chicken soup-pushing interfering loudmouth, followed by films that tried to depict Jews as anxious but cute - Fiddler on the Roof or Woody Allen's heroes, and films that attempted to show that Jews are just like everyone like The Graduate, and then films that took on the subjects of anti-semitism in general and the Holocaust in particular.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Walking through versions of the past (Books - Interpreters by Sue Eckstein)

Susan Eckstein's Interpreters starts with an eye-opening paragraph.
I think I was about six when my mother tried to kill me, though I didn't know it at the time. It was probably somewhere around here - where the privet hedges give way to barriers of leylandii and high wrought-iron gates. I don't suppose it had anything to do with the hedges and gates, though they can't have helped. This place could induce a yearning for death in even the most optimistic.
Conflict anyone? Aside from the efficiency with which she dispatches with the central relationship of the book (one that provides not just pathos but also tension and narrative structure), Eckstein sets up a first-person narrator, Julia, in one paragraph who we know is haunted by the past. She has an eye for detail and a strong sense of irony - both means by which people distance themselves from emotion. Most of all, she feels trapped by convention.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wislawa Szymborska, spirited Polish poet - Her poems make me say 'Yes, exactly.'

Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for literature, died on Monday at 88 (hat tip: Bookslut)

I posted some of her irrepressible poems here in 2007, in addition to this excerpt from her Nobel address:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Parallel lives of determination and vigor (Books - A Saving Remnant by Martin Duberman)

Barbara Deming and David McReynolds are social and political radicals who worked during the tumultuous decades spanning the 1950s - 2000s. Their personal transformation through radical political action is the subject of Martin Duberman's dual biography A Saving Remnant. This sometimes messily organized narrative seemed almost suited to McReynolds and Demings's unusual lives of outward determination and vigor, and their parallel personal journeys which included much internal conflict, however, I was disappointed by the writing, which I found curiously flat and carelessly repetitive. Additionally, in a story whose central characters were active in many political organizations and who published in numerous journals, Duberman gave me too little background to help distinguish the Social Democratic Front from the Students for a Democratic