Books and Arts

Jazz, Age, and the NEA
January 13, 2012

Empowered to endow in more ways than one, the National Endowment for the Arts did its job of bestowing prestige at a lavish event at Jazz at Lincoln Center this past week in honor of five musicians named as NEA Jazz Masters: the drummer Jack DeJohnette, the saxophonist Von Freeman, the bassist Charlie Haden, the singer Sheila Jordan, and the trumpeter Jimmy Owens.

Going to Melody
January 11, 2012

In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle.

Wait, Is Miranda July’s Book Fiction or Non-Fiction?
January 11, 2012

There’s a moment in Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miranda July’s hilarious and discomfiting first film, in which the director of a contemporary art museum and her assistant are fawning over a new show. “It really is amazing. It just looks so real,” the director kvells over what she believes is a sculpture of a discarded hamburger wrapper. “Oh, that wrapper is real,” says the artist, a young man with blond Fabio-style hair.

Thomson on Film: And the Oscar For Most Pointless Awards Show Goes To …
January 10, 2012

On Thursday January 5th, I was trying to read the Seth Schiesel column on the front of the Arts section of the New York Times. After a few paragraphs, it said, “Continued on Page 5,” and my fingers made the natural leafing gestures to get me to five (no matter that I am used to Schiesel having large and merited front-page display). But “page 5” turned out to be “C3B” and a full-page ad for The Descendants.

How To Win Friends and Influence People … With Chaucer!
January 09, 2012

Recently reading Harper’s, I came across an advertisement for a mail-order audio course entitled Life Lessons of the Great Books. Over 36 lectures, it promises to teach “how great books...provide you with insights on how to conduct yourself in times of trouble, how to handle the joys and frustrations of love, how to appreciate the simple moments in life, and so much more.” Great idea, I thought! In fact, I’ve decided to start my own line of courses, mining the works of all forms of literature for lessons that can be directly applied to solve everyday problems.

Barbara Lea: She Had No Superior
January 06, 2012

While it’s not essential for a music critic to sing or play an instrument, it helps; similarly, it’s useful for a musician to have a critical sensibility—a framework of aesthetic values or standards to draw from and test one’s work against. It’s good for an artist to have a little critic inside, and few musicians I’ve known have had internal critics more acute and more demanding than the one inside Barbara Lea, the popular singer who died on December 26 at age 82. I admired Lea greatly and came to know her fairly well.

Thomson on Film: Why ‘The Artist’ Just Might Win the Oscars
January 05, 2012

“The Artist is a silent film!” … until the end, when tap dance and a few words give way to our applause. The whole thing is so damn clever and charming, it might just sneak off with Best Picture. Something will, and this film is unexpected, a crowd-pleaser, and promoted by the Weinstein brothers—a pattern that has worked before. Never mind if it’s not exactly a “best film.” Though The Artist borrows its storyline from A Star is Born, it drops that film’s sad ending.

Thomson on Films: The Oedipal Complexity of Early Psychoanalysis
January 02, 2012

A Dangerous Method is crammed with alarm and peril at the outset. A young, dark-featured woman in white is barely contained in a moving carriage in 1904—she is screaming, heaving, sighing—and she is being taken to a clinic just outside Zurich where she will become the patient of Dr Carl Jung. Outside the smart establishment, on what seems a fine day, she is carried inside still writhing like an eel on a cutting board. She turns out to be Sabina Spielrein, and she is played by Keira Knightley, not an actress who has carried me away in the past.

What the Republican Primary Season Has Revealed About the GOP
December 30, 2011

It’s very tempting to dismiss the Iowa caucuses as much ado about almost nothing: As Iowa goes, so goes . . . Iowa, and little more. But, despite its inherent myopia, the early part of the 2012 primary season has managed to be clarifying. Indeed, by combining the most recent survey evidence, we can learn a great deal about the state of the contemporary Republican Party. Put simply, its dominant concerns are economic—especially the federal budget deficit.

Literary Resolutions For the New Year
December 30, 2011

Last year, I gave the traditional New Year’s resolutions a literary spin by resolving to become a better reader in 2011. Now it’s time to take stock. Did I keep my promises? And what should I resolve to do this year? 1. Lose weight. I pledged to make 2011 the year of my big switch to e-galleys, freeing myself of the mountains of paper weighing down my shelves and cluttering my apartment. Alas, this didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I signed up for both Netgalley and Edelweiss, but my electronic requests for review copies were often unanswered or (bizarrely) denied.