Notes on Reading. Nonfiction.
Ron Rosenbaum, The Shakespeare Wars. Random House, 2006
In the preface, Rosenbaum writes, “This book is concerned with the clashes over how best to experience the work of Shakespeare . . . more deeply. I want to bring you closer to some of the genuinely exciting contentions over the work, how best to read, speak and act it.”
The work is enlightening and enjoyable, enjoyable to the point of fun. Topics that I most enjoyed: the description of a “life-changing” production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bernice Kliman’s The Enfolded Hamlet (presenting the three versions of the play in a single work), “redemption and promise” at the end of the tragedies, the power of close reading for literary understanding, the debate over spellings (for instance “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” vs “To morrow and to morrow, and to morrow,” the latter being a “destination” and in the opening of Hamlet, “The air bites “shrewdly” vs “shroudly”), and some performers’ use of the “delicate pause” at the end of each line of iambic pentameter.
Bob Herbert, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. Doubleday, 2014.
Herbert discusses problems in contemporary America: weak infrastructures, unemployment, shrinking middle class, wars, poverty, mistreatment of veterans, and poor education. He traces historic factors which have led to deplorable problems, shows their effects on the people, and advocates citizen action for their correction. His portrayal of people hurt by our inadequacies are sympathetic, provocative, and memorable.
Notes on Reading. Drama.
“The Shepherd’s Play” in Voices: An Anthology of Poetry and Pictures: The First Book. Geoffrey Summerfield, ed., Penguin, 1968.
This playet, from an anonymous source, celebrates the Nativity. The speaking parts are three shepherds, Mary, and an angel, who proclaims the birth. One shepherd speaks of the difficulties of the life of shepherds and meets others for an evening meal outdoors, each shepherd contributing food and drink. One shepherd complains of his controlling wife: “. . . it’s not unknown / That husbands as live hereabout / To their wives must bow down / Or else they’ll catch a clout.” During the feast the Angel appears. There is great, unnatural light, and the shepherds at first cannot understand its meaning. There are interesting conjectures from them, and they are confused because they cannot understand the Gloria, sung, of course, in Latin. The Angel then speaks English and tells them to go to the Nativity. They do so and leave humble tokens as gifts. They receive a blessing from Mary, and each vows to live a different life. One will be kind and preach when he can. Another will preach, even overseas possibly. The third will become a hermit, “To praise God all day.”
This piece should be well-known, performed by groups at churches during the Christmas season.
Notes on Reading. Fiction.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Signet Classics, 1961.
Hawthorne’s interesting and entertaining story takes us to early nineteenth century America, and before. The omniscient narrator takes his time to describe characters’ appearances and feelings and to provide background to events. He describes in detail places and activities. There are excellent pictures of town life, including antics of children, attitudes of New Englanders, activities of vendors. There are ever-present tensions between darkness and light, the past and the present, and hope and despair The ending is delightful, fun even. Hawthorne’s heavily Latinate diction shows us “quidnuncs” of the town, “tautogs” on the dinner plate, “contumacious” people, an “eleemosynary” situation, and “gallinaceous” animals!
Isabel Allende, Zorro. Translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. Harper Perennial, 2005.
There are grand adventures of Zorro’s youth: Indian and pirate attacks, sea voyages, life with gypsies, duels, raids on prisons, voodoo spells, life in California, Panama, Spain, and Louisiana. The historical background, 1790-1815, is deftly presented in historical context by one of our best contemporary writers.
Piano Concert. Paul Lewis, Piano. Baldwin Auditorium, Duke University, East Campus. Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Op. 109, Op. 110, Op. 111.
There are the last three piano sonatas of Beethoven. The program notes describe the music as “strongly expressive,” “lyrical,” “elegiac,” “transcendental.” I’ve often listened to these three sonatas as a group, enjoying a recording by Pollini. I was interested that Lewis took the tempos slower, but brought out the lyrical qualities more than Pollini does.
Comparisons aside, Lewis’s playing was attentive to detail, beautiful, and moving. In the last sonata (my favorite) Lewis struck chords followed in the score by marks of silences. He played and released the chords but held the sound with the damper pedal. He removed his hands from the keyboard and listened attentively during the rests, thus creating a visual and tactile relationship between him and the instrument.
Within the sonata form Beethoven makes uses of fugues and variations. The fugues take us inward to know the nature of the cosmos; the variations direct us to the world and its pleasures and joys.
During final applause, the woman next to me asked, “Do you think he’ll give an encore?” My answer: “No. What else is there to play?” I almost added: “Who wants to hear anything else tonight?”
As moved intellectually and spiritually as I was, I can only imagine the performer’s experience in the playing. He must belong to a high order of being, to which he transports the fortunate listeners.
Beethoven, Op. 109 is written in E Major. When I played piano, I especially enjoyed playing in E Major and its relative minor key, c-sharp minor. The four sharps fit the hand well and give a genial and bright tone.
The program notes say that Beethoven’s last sonata ends in a C Major chord, and that his first sonata begins with a C Major chord. C Major, the Alpha and Omega of Beethoven sonatas. Let’s hear them again, all thirty-two of them.
At the Ocean. The Bogue Banks, Pine Knoll Shores, NC
April 18, about 8 pm.
On the beach. The sea runs restlessly. As waves rush in, a whip current runs across them and they take a sharp change in direction before they break near the shore. I am alone. There is a strong breeze from the north. The sky is overcast. In only one place does a star shine forth, the “great star” of the western sky in April, celebrated in Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln.
At the hotel. On the wall across from my bed is a large framed photograph of the interior of a chambered nautilus. Colors are coral and pearl. I remember the poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, which I enjoyed teaching from time to time. It’s an excellent poem, one of the best from the Fireside Poets. I wonder if it is taught now. For a retirement project perhaps I’ll memorize it.
April 19, about 9 am.
I go to the shore to meditate. I clear my mind by letting thoughts come and dismissing them. After a while I can sit not distracted by thought. I am aware that a velvety green lizard has joined me on the bench. Occasionally he puffs out a red flare of skin at his throat. After several minutes he crawls down to the boardwalk, and sits by the bench, occasionally looking up at me. He does not otherwise move until I arise from the bench to leave. Then he slowly slinks into the vegetation of the dunes. After the meditation, I realize that there is no place I have to go, nothing that I have to do. It’s an insight I will take home and an attitude which I may more fully adopt.
April 19, about 11 am.
Children play on the beach. A mother helps a young girl lift a kite into the light wind. The girl does a good job keeping the kite in a steady place and at a steady height. An older boy is burying a younger boy in the sand. Nearby three children are using small plastic buckets to make a sand castle. A boy and girl play in the surf, not approaching the breakers, but having fun splashing in the area of the surf after the breaks.
At my twice-a-year physical checkup, I bemoan hay fever, which has plagued me this moth. I remembered the dry springs of Colorado, where I did not thus suffer and told the doctor I had been thinking of moving there. “Yes,” he said, “Colorado is a beautiful place with many benefits. You can spend a lot of money to move there, or you could spend a very little amount and buy the generic version of Claritin and enjoy the spring here.”
Once I enjoyed rain. Now I have an aversion to it. It was a wet, cold winter, and April has had much rain. It wakes me in the night and makes me restless. It oppresses and vexes my spirit. I don’t know why I’ve changed in my attitude. If April showers bring May flowers, then we will have an unparalleled floral magnificence in May.
Thank you for reading. I hope May will bring good things your way.