Saturday, September 15, 2012


Friends and new acquaintances, we're off to points east for a little bit - a late vacation.  Below are the pix of our destinations.  The closest guesses (as in most geographically specific) will be entered in a drawing.  One winner will be selected when we return (you can live anywhere) .  The winner can choose 1 book related to travel or places other than the place you live - fiction or non-fiction, travel, history, world politics, or recipes of distant places - exact details of the offer to follow on our return.  Friends, relatives, and others who know our travel plans are not eligible.  Answers by email please, not by comment:  Please put 'VACATE drawing' in the subject line.  I will, of course, require the name and mailing address of the lucky winner.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Encore, encore (Books - A Positively Final Appearance by Alec Guinness)

Following my enjoyment of Alec Guinness's 1995-6 journal My Name Escapes Me I couldn't help launching directly into his journals covering 1996-8 A Positively Final Appearance.  Although roughly chronological the second volume is more organized by theme.  Being a little older, Guinness seems more focused on his declining physical powers and the death of friends.  He reflects more negatively on the state of the world and makes fewer excursions.  The consequence was fortunate for his reader as the book is peppered with sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching anecdotes of Marlene Dietrich, Michel St Denis, Humphrey Bogart, Edith Evans, Beatrice Lillie, and the like, that I could lap up with a spoon.  He also tucks away perceptive readings of verse, and observations on plays and acting offered, not instructively, but because it is his habit and his pleasure to think about them.  I'll offer you a few... 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Aesthetics transforms vision and the mind, which transforms aesthetics... (Books - The Age of Insight By Eric Kandel)

There has been a bevy of books examining wider aspects of culture as they intersect with brain science written by scientists in the past year:  Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by Christof Koch, The Age of Insight by Eric R. Kandel, Who's In Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzaniga, and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  They are written by senior neuroscientists and written for the general public I wrote about the Gazzaniga here, I will write on Koch in the coming weeks, and I have yet to finish the Kahneman, but I just completed Eric Kandel's The Age of Insight (Random House, 2012). 

The eminent Nobel-Prize winning neuroscientist satisfyingly brings together modernist art, the Viennese Secession to be precise, the study of the unconscious mind emerging during the same period, and what the development of neurobiology and cognitive psychology can contribute to our understanding of human-ness.  His self proclaimed aim is to bring together science and art, his mechanism is to address what we know about how the brain accomplishes visual perception, creativity, and feeling.  The result is a fluidly written account, fueled by a lifetime in neuroscience and a passion for painting, particularly portraiture.    

A talent for wonder (Books - My Name Escapes Me by Alec Guinness)

In preparation for watching the recent film version of John Le Carre's  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I got the 1979, 6-episode, made-for-BBC version to watch first.  I know that I had seen some part of it before, but never the whole thing, and never with the amount of attention required to follow the amount of story telling conveyed through behavioral detail.  It is wonderfully slow paced, unlike anything one can see on television now - without the cutting back and forth every five seconds, between seventeen different cameras - lest we linger, lest we see the lie before us, get bored, and change the channel.  The music for it was very good too.  Ian Richardson's performance is wonderfully animated, but the real pleasure of it was Alec Guinness's close-to-the-chest portrayal of George Smiley.  He is one of those actors whose performances always make me think, well he's not really acting, that's just who he is.