One-Minute Book Reviews

July 29, 2010

The Value of Painting in an Age of Movies and Television — Quote of the Day / Robert Hughes’s ‘Lucian Freud’

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What value does painting have in an age of visual media that can reach many more people? Robert Hughes responds in his Lucian Freud: Paintings (Thames & Hudson, 2003), an excellent companion to Martin Gayford’s Man With a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, which Thames & Hudson will publish in October:

“Painting is a sublime instrument of dissatisfaction, of dissent from any kind of visual orthodoxy and received idea, not excluding those of late modernist mannerism. No work of art can ever be experienced at first hand by as many people as a network news broadcast or the commercials that grout it. That does not matter. It never has. What does count is the energy and persistence with which painting can embrace not ‘empty value’ but lived experience of the world; give that experience stable form, measure and structure; and so release it, transformed, into one mind at a time, viewer by viewer, so that it can work as (among other things) a critique of the more ‘ideological’ and generalized claims of the mass media. There is no great work of art, abstract or figurative (and especially none figurative) without an empirical core, a sense that the mind is working on raw material that exists in the world at large, in some degree beyond mere invention. Painting is, one might say, exactly what mass visual media are not: a way of specific engagement, not general seduction.”

June 17, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on ‘Designer Tribalism’ / Quote of the Day From ‘Nomad’

Filed under: Memoirs,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:45 am
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Ayaan Hirsi Ali condemns honor killings and other crimes against women in her new Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations (Free Press, 304 pp., $27), a sequel to her bestselling Infidel. She also argues that a blinkered multiculturalism can help to legitimize to misogyny.

In this quote from Nomad, the Somali-born activist responds to idea that immigrants benefit from maintaining the cohesion of their old culture:

“The idea that immigrants need to maintain group cohesion promotes the perception of them as victim groups requiring special accommodation, an industry of special facilities and assistance. If people should conform to their ancestral culture, it therefore follows that they should also be helped to maintain it, with their own schools, their own government-subsidized community groups, and even their own system of legal arbitration. This is the kind of romantic primitivism that the Australian anthropologist Roger Sandall calls ‘designer tribalism.’ NonWestern cultures are automatically assumed to live in harmony with animals and plants according to the deeper dictates of humanity and to practice an elemental spirituality.

“Here is something I have learned the hard way, but which a lot of well-meaning people in the West have a hard time accepting: All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not. A culture that celebrates femininity and considers women to be the masters of their own lives is better than a culture that mutilates girls’ genitals and confines them behind walls and flogs or stones them for falling in love. … It is part of Muslim culture to oppress women and part of all tribal cultures to institutionalize patronage, nepotism, and corruption. The culture of the Western Enlightenment is better.”

June 16, 2010

A Bloomsday Celebration of the Portrait of Dublin in ‘Ulysses’

Filed under: Classics,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 pm
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James Joyce’s Ulysses inspires celebrations around the world on the anniversary of the day on which its action takes place – June 16, 1904, known as Bloomsday after its main character, Leopold Bloom. Nowhere is the day observed more elaboratedly than in Dublin, where the novel is set.

John Gross writes of the role of Dublin in Ulysses in an essay on Joyce in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein:

“The city itself is brought to life to an extraordinary degree. As piece of urban portraiture, there is nothing like it in English, apart from Dickens’s London. We are led through a maze of courtyards, lanes and quays, though pub and library, schoolroom and hospital, cemetery and brothel. Voices and faces, hoardings and headlines, birdcries and traffic sounds, are all noted. So are Reuben J. Dodd, solicitor, and the one-legged sailor skirting Rabaiotti’s ice-cream car, snuffling Nosey Flynn and bald Pat the waiter (“Bald deaf Pat brought quite flat pad ink. Pat set with ink pen quite flat pad”). Shopfronts slip past. We are in a city on the move, a city of criss-crossing routes and chance encounters. And it is rendered in an appropriately dynamic manner. The profusion of detail would pall, if everything were described from the same fixed neutral standpoint. But as it is, every scene has its own tone. Joyce’s prose registers the individual sensibility and the distinctive aura.”

A listing of Bloomsday-week events in Dublin appears on the site for the city’s tourist board,  known as Visit Dublin. Ireland’s James Joyce Centre has background on the celebrations.

This is an updated version of a post that first appeared on June 16, 2008.

You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

May 4, 2010

What Is the Role of the Unconscious in Writing? Quote of the Day / Stephen Spender

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Authors often speak of their work as largely a product of their unconscious mind. In interviews, for example, they often say things like, “I didn’t write that book – it wrote me.” The poet Stephen Spender came closer to the truth for most authors in “Warnings From the Grave,” an essay on Sylvia Plath pubished in The Art of Sylvia Plath: A Symposium (Indiana University Press, 1970), edited by Charles Newman. Spender’s observation applies to many kinds of writers although he was speaking of poets:

“Poetry is a balancing of unconscious and conscious forces in the mind of the poet, the source of poetry being the unconscious, the control being provided by the conscious.”

April 29, 2010

Does Acupuncture Work as Anesthesia? Quote of the Day / ‘Nothing to Envy’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:08 am
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In Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick tells the true stories six North Korean defectors, including a doctor she calls Kim Ji-eun, who worked in a small hospital during the devastating famine in the 1990s. Demick spoke with Kim about North Korean health care, including the use of acupuncture for anesthesia. She reports in her her book:

“For years, North Korean hospitals had been using herbal remedies in combination with Western medicine. Instead of painkillers, the doctors used cupping, a technique in which a suction cup is applied to stimulate circulation to parts of the body. Another technique borrowed from the Chinese involved lighting sticks of mugwort next to the afflicted area. With anesthesia in short supply, acupuncture would be used for simpler surgeries, such as appendectomies.

“‘When it works, it works very well,’ Dr. Kim told me years later. And when it didn’t? Patients would be strapped to the operating table to prevent them from flailing about.”

April 27, 2010

Hot Air Blows in From Academia – Quote of the Day / Ben Yagoda in ‘Memoir: A History’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:12 am
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Ben Yagoda writes in his recent Memoir: A History (Riverhead, 291 pp., $25.95), a survey of personal narratives the from 5th-century Confessions of St. Augustine to the present:

“In the 1980s, an unfamiliar pronoun began to appear in works of academic philosophy, history, literary criticism, anthropology, and other fields: ‘I.’ An especially popular formation was ‘I want to argue that,’ introducing a clause that, twenty years earlier, would have been the entire sentence.”

April 25, 2010

‘Write a Blog Post That Took Weeks of Reflection’ – Quote of the Day / Jaron Lanier in ‘You Are Not a Gadget’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:04 pm
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Virtual-reality frontiersman Jaron Lanier argues that sites like Twitter and Wikipedia are fostering the spread of collective views that drown out individual voices. How can you maintain a credible presence in cyberspace without becoming swept up in what he and other experts call the “hive mind”?

Here are three suggestions from Lanier’s new You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 209 pp. $24.95):

“Don’t post anonymously unless you really might be in danger.”

“Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.”

“Create a website that expresses something about who you are that won’t fit into the template available to you on a social networking site.”

March 19, 2010

What Was Shakespeare’s Point of View on Life? Quote of the Day / Christian Gauss

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:22 am
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Most books about William Shakespeare focus on one aspect of his life or work and skirt the big question that underlies both: What was Shakespeare’s point of view on life? An answer came from the literary critic  and Princeton University professor Christian Gauss as quoted by his former student Edmund Wilson:

Wilson writes that Gauss began one of his lectures by saying:

“There are several fundamental philosophies that one can bring to one’s life in the world — or rather, there are several ways of taking life. One of these ways of taking the world is not to have any philosophy at all – that is the way that most people take it. Another is to regard the world as unreal and God as the only reality; Buddhism is an example of this. Another way may be summed up in the words Sic transit gloria mundi – that is the point of view you find in Shakespeare.”

From “Christian Gauss as a Teacher of Literature” in The Portable Edmund Wilson (Viking Penguin, 1983), edited, with an introduction and notes, by Lewis M. Dabney.

March 18, 2010

The Perfection of ‘Anna Karenina’ — Quote of the Day / Elif Batuman in ‘The Possessed’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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Anna Karenina is probably the most popular 19th-century Russian novel in the U.S. today and certainly the only one tapped for both Oprah’s book club and a forthcoming steampunk-influenced mashup. But there is no obvious reason why it should have more appeal than others by Leo Tolstoy and his compatriots. Anna Karenina lacks the scale of War and Peace. It tells a tragic story when many readers crave happy endings, and it reminds us that love doesn’t conquer all, a theme that clashes with a cultural fantasy.

Why is Anna Karenina nonetheless so alluring? Elif Batuman suggests an answer in her quirky and amusing essay collection, The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 286 pp., $15, paperback). Batuman writes of finding a 1970s edition of the novel during a summer visit to her grandmother’s apartment in Turkey:

“Nobody in Anna Karenina was oppressed, as I was, by the tyranny of leisure. The leisure activities in Tolstoy’s novel – ice skating, balls, horse races – were beautiful, dignified, and meaningful in terms of plot …

Anna Karenina was a perfect book, with an otherwordly perfection: unthinkable, monolithic, occupying a super-charged gray zone between nature and culture. How had any human being ever managed to write something simultaneously so big and so small – so serious and so light – so strange and so natural? The heroine didn’t turn up until chapter 18, and the book went on for 19 more chapters after her death, and Anna’s lover and her husband had the same name (Alexei). Anna’s maid and daughter were both called Anna, and Anna’s son and Levin’s half brother were both called Sergei. The repetition of names struck me as remarkable, surprising, and true to life.”

March 7, 2010

New Yorker Film Critic Anthony Lane on Oscar-Night Clothes — ‘The Men Always Let Their Ladies Down …’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:34 am
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Film critic Anthony Lane writes of the 1996 Oscar ceremony in an article reprinted in Nobody’s Perfect: Writings From The New Yorker (Vintage, 2002):

“We saw a fine parade of Empire lines and silk sheaths, and by far the most impressive array of natural greens since Linda Blair showed off the highlights of her supper in The Exorcist. There was peppermint, aquamarine, verdigris, iceberg, eau-de-nil, and a lemon-and-lime special from Marc Winningham. There were pinkish grays so soft and subtle that onlookers were reminded of the furring found on unclean kettles. Then there was Susan Sarandon’s Dolce & Gabbana ball gown, a sort of one-night stand between chocolate and bronze; it exactly matched the hue of her hair, though which came first was a matter of urgent debate.

“She was accompanied by Tim Robbins, whose jacket was scaly, sharkish, and distressingly similar to what he wore last year. How can a guy of such evident sense, whose movies are a rebuff to bad glitz, opt on an annual basis for a garment that was apparently woven overnight from a few strands of crude oil? The men always let their ladies down on Oscar night. Hollywood is essentially unable to grasp that the great advantage of a dinner jacket is that it is, in essence, a uniform. The basics are unwavering, the variations minimal. When you are asked to wear black tie, do not take this as a concealed excuse not to wear black tie. Do not be tempted by the current fad that omits the tie altogether in favor of a single black stud. You may find this sexy, but to the watching world it appears that you have leapt up from an emergency tracheotomy to attend the show.”

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