A new book review from The Movie Snob.
With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays, by Joseph Epstein (1995). I found this older collection of Epstein’s essays at the old Half-Price Books store, and I enjoyed it like I have all his others. I particularly enjoyed his essay about how he enjoys classical music without really knowing a whole lot about it, which is pretty much how I feel about it. The last essay in the collection is a very nice remembrance of and tribute to his mother. If you haven’t tried him yet, I say give him a try.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The Big Green Tent, by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2010; trans. 2015). This is a big old novel about life in post-Stalinist Russia. I liked it. At first, the book is a cohesive story about three boys who befriend each other around the time of Stalin’s death in 1956 and the teacher who inspires them to love Russian literature. But after a few chapters the novel gets fragmentary, jumping around in time and sometimes following other seemingly minor characters on long (but interesting) tangents. Many of the characters are involved in one kind of dissent or another, and the danger of exposure, arrest, and imprisonment is always right around the corner. I haven’t read that many Russian novels, but the characters in them always seem fascinatingly larger than life to me, especially in their passions and appetites. I read this 500+ page novel in fits and starts over a few weeks, so I was often confused about who the various characters were, but I don’t think it diminished my enjoyment of the story very much.
From the desk of The Movie Snob.
Alan Parsons Live Project. As I get on in years, it surprises me when I find myself going to a rock and roll music concert. Until recently, the last concert I saw was The Zombies, which was right about three years ago. But a couple of weeks ago I ended that drought by seeing an old favorite of mine, British rocker Alan Parsons. If you’re not familiar with him, he started out as a technical guy on some Beatles albums and, most famously, on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Then he formed his own studio band called The Alan Parsons Project, and they scored several top-forty hits back in the 1970s and early 1980s. Their biggest hit was “Eye in the Sky,” but they had decent chart success with other songs like “Time,” “Games People Play,” and “Don’t Answer Me.” Their instrumental “Sirius” has become famous as the music that gets played before the game at Chicago Bulls home games. Anyway, I was a fan of the Project’s light, radio-friendly psychedelia, and I bought like ten of their albums back in the day.
Anyway, Parsons eventually decided to do some touring, and back in the 90s I actually caught his live show at Dallas’s since-demolished Bronco Bowl. Now he’s touring again, and some buddies and I saw him at the Theatre in Grand Prairie. Although Eric Woolfson, who sang lead vocals on songs like “Eye in the Sky,” died several years ago and had a remarkable voice that no one else can really evoke successfully, it was still quite a good show. The band played for about an hour (including almost all their top-forty hits), took an intermission, and then played the entirety of the Project’s 1977 album I, Robot. Unfortunately I had to leave before the encore, but the internet indicates that the band probably came back and played “Games People Play” and “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” to wrap up the night.
In sum, it was a solid show. Any Parsons fans out there should check out the show if it comes to a town near you.
A new book review from The Movie Snob.
Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema, by Gary Giddins (2010). I had never heard of Giddins before, but I received an offer to buy this ebook for $2 and thought I would give it a chance. I’m not one for reading books on my iPad, but this collection of short essays on various movies, genres, directors, and actors was a good fit for the format. The book itself was okay but not great. It focuses on movies Giddins watched on DVD, and he watched lots and lots and lots of movies I have never heard of before. His treatments of directors and actors were too short to be terribly useful or informative. And I’m not too interested in some of the genres he is, like film noir and movies about jazz. But I liked his writing style fine, and I did learn a few things—like I should buy the four-DVD collector’s edition of Blade Runner because the later five-DVD version adds nothing of interest.
A new book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
Home, by Marilynn Robinson (2008). It has been more than 10 years since I read and reviewed Robinson’s previous novel, Gilead, and now I wish I had read the two novels back to back, or at least closer together. Gilead was the autobiographical story of an elderly Iowa minister, and figuring large in his story were his dear friend Boughton and Boughton’s black-sheep son Jack. Home tells much of the same story, but this time from the perspective of Jack’s sister Glory, who is a close-up witness to the ripple effects of Jack’s sudden return to the tranquil pond of Gilead, Iowa. In my review of Gilead I took its narrator, Ames, to be a pretty saintly guy, but Home puts him in a rather different light. Anyway, I thought it took a while to get going, but ultimately Home packed a pretty good punch. I recommend it. And maybe I won’t wait 10 years to read Robinson’s 2014 follow-up, Lila.
A new book review from The Movie Snob.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance (2016). This #1 New York Times bestseller has been talked about a lot in the political–cultural magazines I read. According to Wikipedia, Vance was born in 1984. He was raised in Middletown, Ohio, but had strong family roots in Jackson, Kentucky—Appalachia, in other words. His family was bedeviled by poverty and drugs, and the culture mentioned in the book’s subtitle is something like “working-class Scots-Irish Americans without a college degree.” His upbringing was difficult and involved some really hair-raising episodes, but he also had some lifelines (especially his maternal grandparents) that he could depend on when his nuclear family got too dysfunctional. There’s not much self-pity in this book, which in retrospect reminds me a little of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. And Vance doesn’t shy away from describing the self-destructive features of the culture he came from. He himself escaped, managing to graduate from high school, join the Marines, survive Iraq, and graduate from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. According to Wikipedia, Ron Howard has signed on to direct a movie version of the book, which could be very interesting.
A book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson (2013). Apparently this was a #1 national bestseller. It’s got a weird gimmick, for sure. Ursula Todd is born in 1910 England. And she immediately dies, strangled by her own umbilical cord. Then she’s born again—but she’s not reincarnated as somebody or something else, in the usual way. Rather, it’s like God hit the rewind button, and so she’s born again on the same day, at the same time, to the same parents. Only this time, she’s not strangled by her umbilical cord. And so the novel progresses . . . until she dies again. And is born again, on the same day, etc., etc. At first I thought this was just a series of different possible stories about Ursula, but it gradually becomes apparent that the same Ursula is somehow living all these lives sequentially because she starts getting these weird feelings and premonitions and déjà vu type sensations that lead her to act differently and thus live out completely different lives. I thought parts of the book were very good, especially the parts about World War II (which she experiences in some very different ways in her various incarnations). But the Groundhog Day-style gimmick didn’t do much for me, and at the end I wasn’t sure whether poor Ursula will ever get out of her timeloop. So I’ll give it three stars out of five.