Books and Arts

About midway through Hotel Rwanda there's a powerful, if somewhat heavy-handed, scene in which a good-hearted U.N. colonel (Nick Nolte) makes clear to hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) why the West won't intervene to stop the ongoing Rwandan genocide. "We think you're dirt, Paul," he explains sadly. "You're black. You're not even a nigger. You're an African." One assumes that no one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was ever quite so blunt with Hotel Rwanda director/producer/cowriter Terry George.

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Two Suburbs

The two leading actors in The Upside of Anger are so good that their performances, even more than the story they are in, keep us interested. Kevin Costner, who has played baseball stars, here is an ex-baseball star. His character, Denny Davies, has some resemblance to Jack Nicholson's ex-astronaut in Terms of Endearment: a man who peaked early in fame and income. Denny is now exploiting his past as a radio personality. Drinking fairly steadily with booze as both anesthetic and fuel, pleasant and tolerant, he is faced with the problem of living out the rest of his life.

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Hardness

Dirty SnowBy Georges Simenon Translated by Marc Romano and Louise Varse (New York Review Books, 257 pp., $14) Three Bedrooms in Manhattan By Georges Simenon Translated by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman (New York Review Books, 158 pp., $12.95) Monsieur Monde Vanishes By Georges Simenon Translated by Jean Stewart (New York Review Books, 174 pp., $12.95)   Georges Simenon famously claimed to have slept with ten thousand women during the course of his lifetime. Or perhaps it was twenty thousand—the figure varies.

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Utopian Designs

The decorative arts have always been art history's attractive orphans. While many people have a great affection for certain textiles or ceramics, the scholarly world embraces such objects only fitfully, as if they were really somebody else's responsibility. And much of the attention that is given to the decorative arts—in the shelter magazines, in the auction catalogues, and in specialized studies of rococo hardware or medieval ceramic tiles—has an edge about it, a feverishness that can suggest overcompensation and even overkill.

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I am a man now, too, not unlike my father who ran about town recklessly unfolding before people then came home to us who waited for him. He came home to us, that throttling man: the one who bounced with me in the ocean then kissed the salt wet in my hair, who held our mother down in anger or in love above her all-the-while drifting call John, John, who slung a stag's carcass across his shoulders and strode out of a forest into a clearing where light shone intermittently. This is what men do. They touch and spread desire.

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Even though the Terri Schiavo controversy has all but vanished from the news these days, the family's graphic amateur videos of Schiavo's body lying helpless in her hospice bed and broadcast all over the country still occasionally come back to me, especially the frozen image of Schiavo's mother supporting her once-lovely daughter's head with its now vacant eyes, slack, slightly opened mouth, and neck scarred from what appeared to be a tracheotomy incision.

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"Flawlessly lucid"; "viciously insightful"; "quietly devastating"; "emotionally honest and psychologically dense"; "dares speak the truth about modern adult relationships." Those are a few of the phrases that were used to describe the movie Closer when it arrived in theaters late last year. Oddly, as best as I can tell, the following terms were absent from discussion of the film: "ridiculous"; "unmoored from reality"; "emotionally preposterous"; "unintentionally hilarious."Closer, released on video today, is not a bad movie--or rather it is not merely bad.

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Ever since the staggering pictures of naked Iraqi men being brutalized by young men and women in American uniform at Abu Ghraib first surfaced last April, only to be followed by the stunning news of torture and murder of prisoners not only in Iraqi detention camps but also in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and now, most recently, the astonishing reports of American operatives abducting suspected foreign terrorists and sending them to our "allies" in Syria and Egypt to torture them on our behalf--with its corny, yet horrifying Orwellian name, "extraordinary rendition"--I repeatedly find myself str

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Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse By Steve Bogira (Alfred A. Knopf, 416 pp., $25.00) Click here to buy this book The swashbuckling prosecutors, earnest public defenders, and sternly unflappable judges who populate most legal dramas are nowhere to be found in Steve Bogira's engrossing new book Courtroom 302. Tedium, not tension, surrounds these cases, and actual trials by jury intrude only rarely on a constant stream of plea bargains and closed-door compromises. Crimes are petty, repetitive, and, more often than not, nonviolent.

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As I was working on my last column, "On the Making of a Durable World," another instance of that rare aesthetic experience of transcending the distance that separates one generation from another, creating a common, enduring world, unexpectedly visited me. This time, it wasn't so much my own personal sensation as it was the vicarious experience of reading about a writer's intense awareness of seeing and feeling what an artist, centuries before, had seen and felt.

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