Translation from English

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MacArthur "Genius" Award for Deborah Eisenberg

Recently the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2009 "genius" of the winners was short story writer Deborah Eisenberg.

Deborah Eisenberg, whose last book of short stories  "Twilight of the Superheroes" was published in 2006, has been teaching courses at the University of Virginia for the last 15 years.
She is the partner of Wallace Shawn, the avant garde playwright. 

Eisenberg was quoted as saying the award "means time" -- she writes very slowly-- someone estimated about a story per year for many years....

For personal information about her, I refer you to the latest Wikipedia article on her.

People find it difficult to say exactly what it is about her work that is so unusual, but most often refer to its way of articulating subtle psychological moments.

As I have written before, she is not an "easy read" and most people will find her challenging ...
no one else is writing quite like her I think-- and she thoroughly deserves the award for originality in short story writing ( she has also won the Rea Award, a Guggenheim grant, and  several O. Henry prizes). 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The Informant": Caveat Emptor

"The Informant" is a difficult movie to write about because you don't want to spoil the impact...

This rather slender tongue-in-cheek movie seems more European than American ( maybe French or even Czech) and I think the reason I enjoyed it so much was that I knew so little about it when I saw it. 

My guess is this movie was only made because Matt Damon ( who is excellent) agreed to do it.

It takes a lot of cliches and plays with them, the way I think "Duplicity" wanted to do...

Warning: don't go to this movie expecting anything earth-shaking. And as I said, the less you know about it before you see it, the better... 

Set in the Midwest in the 1990's, it takes corporate greed and price fixing for granted and shows how since the schemes of Madoff et al., we are not going to be surprised by anything.

Again, this movie is enjoyable but not that important.... you could wait for the DVD if you really wanted to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Summer's End

"Autumn is here and the sadness is upon us.."--Irish Saying

Summer 2009 was very mixed for me. I spent a good part of it involved with my broken right wrist ( still in therapy and trying to avoid an operation).

Was cheered up mercifully by trips to Cape Cod and New Hampshire ( pictured is Lake Winnipesaukee).

Frustrated and discouraged by the whole fracas over health care reform.

Was so tired of summer in New York a few weeks that it's fading, I am already beginning to miss it. Sort of. I like fall and the cooler, brisker temperatures. It seems to bring in a new year, ( incidentally, the Jewish New Year has just begun-- Happy Rosh Hoshanah to all my Jewish friends).

Lots of personal aggravations I will spare you and just say wishing the best to everyone for a new season. Still recommended: " The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows--and, for the more adventurous,  Ali Smith's "The First Person."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Books: Wartime Guernsey and Modern Britain

I find some literature more challenging than others. In this posting I am alluding to a recent novel and a book of short stories, by two different authors...

The novel first: " The Guernsey  Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," published after the death of writer Mary Ann Shaffer --apparently also worked on by her niece, Annie Barrows-- is an entertaining ( but sometimes grim) account of how the inhabitants of the Isle of Guernsey adapt to German occupation during World War II.

The story is told from the point of view of an English journalist, one Juliet Ashton, who in early 1946 stumbles on information that leads her to become interested in Guernsey and its inhabitants and how they survived ( or didn't survive) the war. The peculiar Society of the title is part of this tale.

This book verges dangerously on " Chick Lit," I think, but has enough literary value -- as I said, it is definitely entertaining-- to recommend it. 

It seems well researched and has convincing if a little too convenient ( and a little stereotyped) characters-- this is a book that wants you to like it. In this, it was a success for me and I hope other people who are looking for a "good read" will check it out.

Something totally different is the collection of short stories " The First Person" by the writer Ali Smith.

Let me take the easy way and quote from blurbs on the jacket that I agree with: "  (She) is a wonderful ventriloquist, adept at throwing her voice into an astonishing array of characters"-- Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times.

A little too fulsome in praise but headed in the right direction is the quote from  The Times  of London: " Joyous...Smith plays dizzying games with her story and language: she bends and buckles her prose, breathes fire into it, lets it cool, swirls it up into unimaginable shapes. This is writing as pure rapture, as giddy delight."

I don't know about all that " giddy delight."  I think Ali Smith is a difficult modern author ( like Deborah Eisenberg) and is a challenge to take on.

Her stories wander all over in theme and approach-- my favorite was " The Child", in which a baby that appears suddenly in a woman's shopping cart ( and she gets stuck with, at least for a while) is angelic in appearance but who speaks like a hilariously politically incorrect adult and tells jokes at the woman's expense. Just how she handles the problem of getting stuck with the child is very amusing and I invite you to read the story to see how it all happens. 

Ali Smith has won a lot of prestigious prizes and is aiming at a more intellectual audience than Mary Ann Shaffer.  Shaffer's book is easier to read, as I said, but if you like to be challenged then I would try to see how you deal with Ali Smith. I have a feeling Ms. Smith is going to be around for a while. 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Health Care- Something is Better than Nothing?

Like a lot of people, I am curious just how the health reform bill is going to evolve in Congress and am resigned to it not being an optimal piece of legislation...

Fact is, we live in unsettled and uncomfortable times, and people are wary of new undertakings that they don't fully understand or believe in.

Some kind of bill will be worked out, that is probable; but it still is going to be an enormous fight. Health care reform has been tried and failed before.

All the special interest groups such as insurance companies are going to use every bit of power they have ( and with their literally thousands of lobbyists, this is considerable)...

Also, right wing radio and other reactionary forces are going to counterattack after President Obama's skillful speech which basically hit the ball back into their court.

Expect more distortions and outright lies, not fewer.

These people will seize on every flaw and fear the American people have... let's face it, this is going to cost a lot of money, and just how the financing of health reform is going to be successfully effected has yet to be really presented convincingly.

The program that emerges will ignore such basics as eyeglasses and dental care, ( this is socialized medicine? Ha!)-- and will simply provide a safety net and needed reforms.

We have millions of people without health insurance, but the fact is that polls keep showing that the great majority of people who have insurance are afraid of some kind of tampering that will affect them adversely. They are being blinded by fear bred by the times and right wing propaganda.

The fight is just being joined, and I look forward to Obama keeping up the pressure on the Republicans and fighting as hard as he can... this is an historical moment that cannot be missed.

Something is better than nothing, and liberals will have to accept that in this time and place, enacting basic legislation -- the "half a loaf" or maybe even the "third of a loaf" --will be a major and decent accomplishment.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Health Care: The Cost of Doing Nothing

America is more split on the Health Care Reform debate than any issue since Vietnam, and President Obama has to win the trust of the American people.

Why are so many people mistrustful of Health Care Reform? This has to be addressed -- the cost of doing nothing is obvious but not being accepted by the independent voters who made Obama president.

This is the time for Obama and the Democratic party to really start convincing people that doing nothing is going to be worse than passing a Health Care Reform bill. 

More efforts are scheduled for the near future, with more speeches by Obama. I'm beginning to wonder if he and the people around him realize just how critical the situation is.

Certainly, a more effective appeal has to be made than has been so far-- or we are going to be stuck with a national health fiasco as well as a political fiasco for the Democratic Party. Both are unacceptable.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rediscovering "Dubliners"

During an otherwise uneventful sojourn to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, ( at the country home of someone I had not seen in 42 years)I re-read some of James Joyce's short stories in the collection "Dubliners."

It's really something to rediscover writing I haven't seen since high school.... and discover again what a fine writer James Joyce is when he wants to be ( I am one of the people who find "Finnegan's Wake" to be a terrible blunder and tragic waste of talent). 

In particular, the story " An Encounter" shows how Joyce can tell a curiously gripping tale made up of the slightest of incidents-- the meeting between a boy off on a larky expedition with a schoolmate in Dublin with a strange and creepy old man-- and interweave it with all sorts of fascinating detail that reveal a much wider look at a whole society.

The story is so rich in material about the place and time,-- I had forgotten that. The other stories in "Dubliners" are equally resplendent in what you could dismiss as "local color" but to me are like fascinating snapshots of an earlier ( and SO lost) time and place... you can smell the smells and taste the atmosphere....really entrancing.

So, if you want a chance to experience Dublin "in the rare old time", take a look at "Dubliners"--it's well worth the visit.