Books and Arts
Rudolph William Luis Giuliani is not the most likable man in America. He is a divider, not a uniter. He demonizes anyone who disagrees with him as "idiotic" or "crazy" or "silly" or "dangerous" or "jerky" (and quite often as "very, very idiotic," or "very, very jerky"). He is a beady-eyed bully, a ruthless egomaniac, a world-class control freak. He informed the media that he was separating from his wife before he informed his wife. He ousted his star police commissioner for getting too much good publicity.
I have a hunch that music-lovers all over the world, who consider themselves well-versed in the kind of twentieth-century music that does not offend them, have not heard of the English composer Gerald Finzi. Who is this biography of Finzi for, in the United States? Stephen Banfield believes that it is for the American church musicians who know Finzi's anthem God is gone up, and the clarinetists who have played his bagatelles, and all those who saw the film Hilary and Jackie and are passingly interested in the identity of Kiffer, Finzi's son. Perhaps this is too pessimistic.
August Strindberg wrote A Dream Play in 1902 after experiencing a serious nervous breakdown in Paris that led him to the brink of madness. Called the "Inferno crisis" after the intensely subjective memoir he later wrote about the experience, this was a period in which Strindberg's incipient paranoia had blossomed into full-blown persecution mania. Among his many curious delusions was the conviction that he was being tortured by feminist witches.
By now it is a rule of thumb (well, my thumb, anyway) that a chief problem in filming a first-class novel is its prose. Other matters are much easier to deal with: extracting the plot, condensing it (usually necessary), and possibly rearranging it. But the better the novel, the less important is this plot-processing. The big trouble is in transmuting the very organism of a work in one art into another organism.
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath edited by Karen V. Kukil (Anchor Books, 732 pp., $18) Saturday exhausted, nerves frayed. Sleepless. Threw you, book, down, punched with fist. Kicked, punched. Violence seethed. Joy to murder someone, pure scapegoat. But pacified during necessity to work. ... Baked a lemon meringue pie, cooled lemon custard and crust on cold bathroom windowsill, stirring in black night and stars. Set table, candles, glasses sparkling crystal barred crystal on yellow woven cloth ...
I am a Stephen King fan. This weakness has caused me a good bit of embarrassment--especially during my former life as a graduate student, when I was expected to spend my days reading large, solemn books. I have been known, in fact, to conceal a King paperback inside a more weighty-looking tome. And when I buy King's latest offering, I usually do so at a secondhand bookstore, so that when I'm finished, I can guiltlessly throw it away or leave it on the subway--thus diminishing the likelihood that anyone will ever discover the offending volume on my bookshelves. But now it appears I no longer ne
Pandora's Picnic Basket: The Potential and Hazards of Genetically Modified Foodsby Alan McHughen(Oxford University Press, 288 pp., $25) Are genetic engineers creating dangerous new "Frankenfoods"? Many people think so, and are frightened. In their view, it is impossible to predict the effects of adding new genes to plants and other organisms. Perhaps genetically modified products will prove highly toxic to animals and human beings, or will disrupt delicate ecological balances.
Only Yesterdayby Shmuel Yosef Agnontranslated by Barbara Harshav(Princeton University Press, 652 pp., $35)The Silence of Heaven: Agnon's Fear of Godby Amos Oz(Princeton, 304 pp., $29.95)Hillel Halkin is a writer and translator living in Israel, and a contributing editor of the Forward.In the spring and summer of 1923, sick with tuberculosis in Berlin and with barely a year left to live, Franz Kafka was studying Hebrew. Not for the first time he was thinking of starting life over in Palestine, under whose hot sun he would recover from his illness in an optimistic atmosphere of Jewish renewal.
Why Wages Don't Fall During a Recessionby Truman F. Bewley(Harvard, 576 pp., $55) What do workers want? Most people give the same answer: more money. The answer is not entirely false, but it certainly is not right. If employers and government officials act on the basis of that answer, they will make serious mistakes. To understand this point, it is necessary to back up a bit and to say something about an increasingly intense debate. Economics is known as "the dismal science," in part because many economists work with a dismal picture of human beings.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (Random House, 462 pp., $25.95) A genre is hardening. It is becoming easy to describe the contemporary idea of the "big, ambitious novel." Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: he is Dickens. Such recent novels as The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Mason & Dixon, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and now White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges.