Books and Arts

Carvin' the Bird
January 22, 2001

Leon Wieseltier: Ken Burns massacres the history of jazz.

Girlie, Interrupted
January 15, 2001

American Feminism, Still vigorous in its latest run of thirty years, is also old enough to produce its own vexed family dynamics. In the political unconscious of the women's movement, the mothers, beset by anxieties about age and the fate of their boldest dreams, fret at their offspring's backsliding ways. And the young bridle at the old guard's faith that a politics devised thirty years ago retains its potency today.

Cruel to be Kind
January 15, 2001

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.

Local Hero
January 15, 2001

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.

Dreaming a Dream Play
January 15, 2001

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.

Women in Danger
January 15, 2001

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.

Ariel's Appetite
December 18, 2000

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 ...

Stephen King and I
November 05, 2000

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

Is Nature Good?
October 23, 2000

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.

The Disappointments
August 07, 2000

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.