Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

 I may have mentioned I love Baroque music.  Here is J.S. Bach's Trio Sonata in C Major BWV 529.

And if any of you are wondering what happened to the dust jacket of my book, let me introduce you to the culprit:

In the line up we have Mrs. Oliver on the left and Lt. Columbo on the right, but who is that in the middle trying to hide?

I believe it is Miss Lemon, my serial book nibbler.

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a book I was never interested in reading, but a fellow blogger made a comment about the book that persuaded me to give it a try.

Is Nabakov a powerful, eloquent writer? Sure. Is the subject matter horrible? Yes.

I have a number of opinions about this book. If something is brilliantly written, does that justify the subject matter? Am I a better person for having read this book? Am I a smarter person? Was this book a valuable addition to my library?

The answer is no. All I can say is that I now have read a very famous and controversial book. When I was young that was the motive for reading a lot of books. I think that is why most people read 50 Shades of Grey. They read it so they can say they read it. They're on the "in", not on the "out".

At my age, I no longer care what anyone else is reading.

As most people already know, the book is about a forty-something man who has a fixation on barely pubescent girls, nymphets, he calls them. He explains it as some kind of unrequited love from when he was a pubescent boy and loved a girl his age. He is hungering for something out of reach.

He is European, but travels to America and moves in with a woman and this is where he meets Delores Haze, his Lolita. A weird series of events leads him to becoming the guardian of Delores, he marries the mother and she is killed through a freak accident, and he basically kidnaps Delores and travels around the country in order to escape detection.

Delores is at his mercy and has to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he wants, like in a classroom at one time, but mostly hotel rooms.

Nabokov reveals a lot in his first person narrative. The man, Humbert, hears Delores sobbing at night, but makes no comment rather than report it. It's little remarks like that that fill you with horror for this little girl.

Humbert tries to appease her by buying her all sorts of gifts and ice cream, things that a twelve year old would want. And Delores occasionally gets the upper hand.

One wonders what exactly Humbert saw in Delores, other than her age, sex, and helplessness. He honestly describes her as rude, stupid, dirty, she doesn't shower or wash her face, her nails are torn and dirty. Her clothes are unclean. I doubt that is how the actresses who portrayed her in the movies looked. I think Nabokov wanted us to see just how perverse Humbert is. There's nothing all that appealing about Delores.

Sometimes Humbert blathers. He really gets wrapped up in his own narcissistic eloquence.

But I find myself rooting for Delores and praying for her escape.

The final justice is in the end when Humbert finally realizes that for all of his obsession, he was never someone of any importance to Lolita. Hardly a blip on her map.

Now I do not know what kind of research Nabokov did on Sociopaths, but I doubt many of them bother justifying their actions the way Humbert did and I doubt any of them think as poetically as he did. Most of them think and act like animals. Worse than animals. Animals don't imprison other animals for their personal pleasure.

People can gush about this book but they need to look real sex criminals in the eye like the bus driver who kept those poor girls prisoner in his house all those years. That's how they really are. In fact Delores is based on a real person, eleven year old Sally Horner who was abducted in 1948, although Nabokov denied this.

I've read reviews that call this book "wickedly funny". I fail to see the humor. I cannot forget what sort of person is narrating the story.

Why did Nabokov write a book like this? Supposedly he explains at the end of my edition. When I finished reading it, I still did not understand why someone would find such a topic so alluring.

I guess if someone writes something well, it doesn't matter how gruesome the topic is.

Actually I don't guess. Because of this book, I hesitate to read another Nabokov.

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Miss Lemon making her escape.  You can run, but you can't hide, Miss Lemon

Until next time, Adieu from all of us!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling; translated by Herbert A. Giles

I've lately discovered the music of Estas Tonne.  He is a Ukrainian guitarist who combines gypsy music with Flamenco and his own brand of atmospheric sound.  In this video he has combined talents with Reka Fodor.  It's not something I could listen to indefinitely but it is definitely calming and nice for evenings where I just want some relaxing background sound.

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio: Eerie and Fantastic Chinese Stories of the SupernaturalStrange Tales from a Chinese Studio: Eerie and Fantastic Chinese Stories of the Supernatural by Pu Songling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating look into Chinese folk lore of the supernatural.

Pu Songling (1640-1715) was a Qing Dynasty author who collected and rewrote native stories that eventually became known as "Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio". Herbert A. Giles (1845-1935) a famous sinologist translated them into English.

One learns about Chinese beliefs of the afterlife, the interaction between the spiritual and physical world and a social commentary on how Chinese society was constructed as well as the value placed on education and advancement.

These stories are also strongly moralistic in that almost every story involves a corrupt city official or magistrate or people who try to cheat the system.

In these tales, there is a fluidity between the living and the dead. Spirits of people now passed come back to humans for a variety of reasons and sometimes even intermarry with the living.

One gains a good understanding of the afterlife, in that hell and its various levels are described in particular terms and there is a strong current of justice.

Buddhist monasteries and monks play an important role in society as does honoring dead ancestors. Also the belief in reincarnation is prevalent and doing things to make reparation in the present life to atone for a previous life.

There are over hundred and sixty tales and the index has a methodical description of the different levels of the dead, the various magistrates in hell and their specific responsibilities and authority.

If one is interested in Chinese culture as it existed in the 17th century or earlier, particularly their belief system concerning the supernatural, this is an excellent source.

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

For all you Baroque lovers out there (of which I am one) here is one by Georg PhillipTeleman:  his Suite for Flute and Orchestra in A Minor.  Jean-Pierre Rampal is the soloist and conductor; the orchestra is the Jerusalem Music Center Chamber Orchestra.

Magpie MurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I rarely read modern mysteries. There is usually too much perfunctory sex, violence and language. I understand that for some people that makes the novel, but I prefer good writing.

However, I really enjoyed Foyle's War on TV and Horowitz was the screen writer so I was willing to give his novel a try. Do I like it as well as my long time favorites written in the first half of the twentieth century? Not really. Did Horowitz write a good mystery. Yes, I would say so. There were things I liked and things I did not like.

Before continuing know that I am going to be providing a few spoilers, not the murderer(s) or anything, but plot developments that you might not want to know before reading the book for yourself.

First a summary: Susan Ryeland is an editor for a publishing company and has settled down in her apartment for the weekend to read the latest murder mystery from one of their authors.

As the reader, I found this mystery interesting, even if the characters were a little flat. Everybody was unpleasant except for the detective, Atticus Pund and his assistant Jason Fraser. Even so, the story moved along and I was looking forward to finding out "whodunnit".

But this is not to be. The last chapter is missing. Ryeland is as disappointed as we are and tries to contact her publisher as well as the author to find out where the rest of the story is.

That Monday when she gets to work she finds out that the author, Alan Conway, is dead from an apparent suicide. Ryeland finds herself examining Conway's suicide letter and the circumstances and arrives at the conclusion that he did not necessarily kill himself, that there is good chance he was murdered.

So we leave the first mystery and spend the middle part of the book running around with the editor as she attempts to uncover this second mystery. In the end, both mysteries are solved.

What I liked? Both mysteries were pretty good. Overall I enjoyed reading it. Interestingly, the characters in the second mystery were more interesting and likeable than the ones in the first mystery. They seemed to have flesh and blood while the first ones seemed gray and unreal.

Was this on purpose? It's a clever bit of writing if it is.

What did I not like? I was enjoying the first mystery and just when we arrive at the conclusion, we are jolted out of that reality and into a "greater" reality, the one where we have the author who supposedly wrote the first story and now a second mystery. I really did not enjoy that and frankly, maybe it is an original idea, but it added nothing to either story, in my opinion.

Horowitz also includes sections with different styles of writing, showing us what is good writing and what is bad writing. While I admire his ability, this felt a little bit like showing off. He even has two scripts of the same story, showing how one man wrote it badly and another one wrote it well.

Other than the jarring experience of the fourth wall of a fictional story being suddenly removed, the stories were good.

But I'm going back to my Stout, Sayers, Tey and Vickers.

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side by Orly Lobel

Someone once asked, "Why do we go from one, to two, to fourteen birds?"

I thought that was funny.  Now I have five birds.  I got two more to keep Lts. Foyle and Columbo company.  They are two little girls and so pretty.  I've named them Mrs. Oliver and Miss Lemon, both women characters in the Hercule Poirot series.

You Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark SideYou Don't Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie's Dark Side by Orly Lobel

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I noticed that many people gave this book glowing reviews. I'm afraid I can't.

The book promised a lot but simply did not follow through.

I thought I was going to get a step by step account of how one man who worked for Mattel developed his own ideas for a doll, different from Barbie, then sold his idea to a competing toy company, and the ensuing lawsuit.

Instead, the author wanders all over the place, backing up with history of Lille, the original Barbie, which was actually a sex toy for post-war German men.

Then we learn about the history of Mattel and its founders, the founders of MGA the company that sold the Bratz dolls, and a smidgeon of Carter Bryant, the man who came up with the idea for Bratz.

We get quite a bit of Orly Lobel's opinion. She clearly hates Mattel. They are the big bad wolf in this story, and maybe deservedly so, but I can't say I feel sorry for anyone else, either.

Carter Bryant did develop Bratz and sell it to a competing company while he was still working at Mattel. He even paid other Mattel workers to help, including poor Mexican workers who later got fired for breaking their contract. Bryant is portrayed as the sacrificial lamb whose life is ruined at the hands of Mattel. Maybe, but a more even account would have listed possible alternate routes Bryant might have had recourse to.

I do agree that laws need to be changed about patents. Many brilliant professional designers and engineers have invented and developed incredible things and not made a cent because they were on salary. The company they worked for automatically owns the patent and makes billions. The people who actually did the thinking and making should at least get a royalty. It seems to me that would encourage greater creativity.

Much of the book is devoted to "exposing" just how big and bad a wolf Mattel is. We learn that Barbie is losing sales and Mattel doesn't seem to have the brains to change the trend by expanding or innovating. Instead they use "predator litigation".

When the band, Aqua, recorded the song, "Barbie Girl", Mattel sued them for copyright infringement. The court ruled in the band's favor because it is legal to parody a famous brand (or person or anything) in a song or any medium as long as you're not trying to sell the brand as your own.

Interestingly, it is not legal to satire a brand name, Lobel explains the difference at length and, frankly, the delineation was lost on me. Not that she didn't try, she took up several pages, repeating herself as she wrote on the two sides to the, in my opinion, same coin.

Especially since there were a couple of artists who made obscene art using Barbie. One made photos of Barbie naked and covered in meat, placed in lurid positions. Another created a "Dungeon Dominatrix" Barbie; but somehow these sleazeballs' right to expression of free speech trumped Mattel not wanting their children's doll to be used in perverted ways. Lobel, writes with glee how these "underdogs" won over the horrible Big Boss of toy merchandise.

Right. As if the law suit didn't help these previous nonentities sell their product through notoriety and publicity.

I would have appreciated the book more if the author could have left her slanted opinion out of it.

A lot of what she said was silly. She constantly referred to Barbie as the "Ice Queen". She expounds on how children were tired of Barbie and wanted something they could identify with. They wanted more ethnic diversity, something that spoke to where they were at in life.

Really? Teenagers aren't playing with dolls, little girls are. I doubt if children under the age of ten possess that kind of discernment. And as far as being tired of Barbie, how could they be when every ten years there's a whole new crop of young children who are being introduced to her?

I won't say the book is without merit. I learned a few things about our legal system and copyright infringement. But I just can't stand reading such an obviously biased account. And she took so long to get to the actual court case. She must have had a contract that stipulated how many chapters she had to have so she generously puffed her page numbers with barely related material.

If you want a really riveting account, well written about a tyrant using and abusing her company and employees, I recommend Bad Blood, the account of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her bogus blood testing device.

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul

Here is Dmitri Shostakovich's Waltz No. 2 .  Shostakovich was a complicated character.  He wrote many pieces, epic and grandiose for the "Powerful Soviet Union", however later musicologists claim that he was simply doing what he was forced to do and decided that he was going to write what he wanted to write and give it whatever title that made the government happy.  Some surmise that some of these compositions were actually meant to be ironic.

111 years since the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich

Whichever, I do really like his compositions. I met his son, Maxim, who is a conductor and a compelling person in his own right.

The Mimic MenThe Mimic Men by V.S. Naipaul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Mimic Men is a work of fiction about a man who grew up on a Caribbean island called Isabella (not a real island). As an adult he moved to England for a while, came back to Isabella, trying to help reconstruct it after it stopped being an English colony and ultimately failing.

Ralph Singh is a man who tries to Anglicize himself. In school he changes his name to Ralph from Ranjit Kripalsingh. The story fluctuates back and forth between the two cultures as Ralph Singh tries to come to terms with his identity inside a Caribbean culture while trying to apply English attributes to his person and life. There are wheels within wheels because Singh is a man of Caribbean culture but also from Indian culture; yet he is not Indian either. He is Indian suffused with the culture of the islands.

The story has its moments. When he describes his life on the island, his family and relatives, I see glances of a vividness in his culture among Indians, whites and those of African descent, not to mention all the ones who share each race, which is quite common in the Caribbean. But these moments only occasionally flash here and there.

Singh tries to blend into the Englishness of the U.K. He marries a white woman, has affairs with many others, but he cannot warm up to the people or their way of life. However, going back to Isabella, he no longer fits in there either.

Really, I had a hard time understanding or caring about the characters of this novel. A lot that was going on was not clear to me, at least I failed to see the point. The only thing I found interesting were the different characters Singh describes as they come into his life.

The least interesting part of the novel is when Singh joins a group of Socialists in the U.K. Reading about him and his co-horts trying to promote these ideals was just plain boring. Describing people enamored with "causes" holds no interest for me.

I wish he had spent more time giving the reader better views of his characters but Naipaul has a habit of writing about people without any sense of who anyone is. Everyone is a stranger to him. It is as if the narrator suffers from some sort of emotional detachment and is incapable of caring about anyone or anything.

He gets away with it in his non-fiction, at least in the one non-fiction book of his I read (An Area of Darkness, his travelogue of his time in India), but it simply does not brighten this existentially bland account of people from either island who I know from personal experience are filled with so much personality and color.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Myths of Northern Lands by H. A. Guerber

 I've been fooling around with the color tools on my computer.  Here's a more vividly colored Hercule.

I thought since I was writing review a book about Northern European myths it would be appropriate to listen to a little Wagner.  Here is Ride of the Valkyries.

Myths of Northern LandsMyths of Northern Lands by H. A. Guerber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I do not remember where I got this book, probably a book fair at a library. My copy is a vintage hardback published in 1895. It has old paintings to represent the various gods and goddesses.

Overall, I liked this book, it was highly informative and thorough in describing the origins of the Norse creation myth, of all the gods and goddesses, whom they married, and their individual fates, along the various stories and adventures each god and goddess took part in. It also narrates the origins of mythological figures such as giants, elves and dwarfs.

If someone wants an almost encyclopediac collection of every Norse God, this is the book for them. Guerber recounts the myths based on the ancient poetry they are derived from and includes several excerpts from those poems.

It includes the Sigurd Saga, in Germany known as the Ring Cycle, the Twilight of the Gods, which is the narration of the end of Norse myth and the dawn of Christianity, and finally a comparison between Norse and Greek mythology.

Reading the Sigurd Saga and also the origins of elves and dwarfs, one understands where Tolkien got his inspiration for his Lord of the Rings saga. The names and myths are very similar.

There may be more exciting versions of Norse myth, but this one certainly has its value, if for no other reason because of the time (the 19th century) in which it was written.

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                      Psychedelic Hercule and Lt. Foyle

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Family Affair: A Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mystery by Rex Stout

Fooling around with my Mac photo tools.  I also have some news that I'll relate at the end of my post.

A young man who I have performed with since he was in high school, going with him to state levels in solo and ensemble juries for many years has just been appointed as principal trombonist for the Met.  I messaged him recently if he would still be willing to record a couple of duos with me.  

He said yes, but it had to be during the summer.  So here's hoping he will be able to work with me in a year.  Luckily I live in the same town as his parents.

One of the works I want us to record is John Davison's Sonata for Trombone and Piano.  Here is the first movement called, Fantasia.

A Family Affair (Nero Wolfe, #46)A Family Affair by Rex Stout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the last novel Stout wrote. He wrote around seventy novels and short stories all starring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Stout died around six months after A Family Affair was published.

Plot: Pierre, a waiter at the restaurant Rusterman's has come to Nero Wolfe's Brownstone at night. Pierre is familiar to the Wolfe household because Rusterman's is not only a favorite restaurant, Wolfe is a trustee.

Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's leg man answers the door (for those of you unfamiliar with the story, Nero Wolfe rarely leaves his home, yet has the uncanny ability to be on top of information and solve mysteries. Suspects are brought to the Brownstone to be questioned). Pierre begs to be let in because he needs to talk to Wolfe. He refuses to divulge any information to Archie except that his life is threatened.

Wolfe has already gone to bed and as fans of our portly detective know, Wolfe does not have a flexible schedule. His bedtime, dinner times, and time spent on the roof in his green house with his orchids are not flexible. In fact, there is practically nothing about Wolfe that is flexible .

So Pierre cannot talk to Wolfe that night and he won't talk to Archie but refuses to leave because he fears for his life. Archie puts him in a free room, opposite his own.

After seeing Pierre to the room, Archie crosses the hall to his own room and proceeds to undress and go to bed. Before he half way gets his trousers off an explosion shakes the entire Brownstone. Archie, re-adjusts his pants and runs back across the hall.

The windows have been blasted out, but from the inside. Pierre is lying down, quite dead, and with no face. A little investigating reveals that Pierre was opening a small tube containing a cigar which detonated the bomb.

Who did this and why? That is what the rest of the book will tell you. Wolfe is livid this happened in his own house and takes it personally.

This book was written in 1975 which is about forty years after the first Wolfe mystery was written. However, the characters have not aged, which makes it difficult to imagine them since I still see them dressed for the 1930s.

There are a few differences, some of them not positive. Trying to be relevant and current (I suppose) Stout entangles the current crisis of the day, Watergate, into the story. So as Archie imparts his discoveries to us, we are to wonder, as he does, if the murder is in anyway connected to the national scandal.

I don't want to spoil the mystery in case anyone has not read the story, but I found one aspect of the conclusion unsatisfying and I don't know how to say without giving the culprit away, so I won't say anything, only to say, I disagree with authors employing this method.

Something else occurred to me as I read this story. Murders must be interesting on every level. Not only must finding the guilty party be interesting, but the murder has to be committed for an interesting reason. A number of mysteries, even by my favorite authors often fail at this end.

Whether anyone out there will find the motive for the murder to be interesting or not will be a matter of opinion.

Now a couple of things I liked was how, while keeping the witty banter that bounces back and forth between the main characters, Stout has added in a streak of darkness. Wolfe is not so arrogant or omniscient as previous stories have him; he shows vulnerability. The police are shown greater respect, this is a great improvement from the almost Keystone Cop cartoons, especially Inspector Cramer, in his earlier stories.

There is an overtone of sadness as though things were coming to an end. Perhaps Stout knew that this would be his last story and he would be telling Nero Wolfe, Archie Goodwin, their detectives Saul Panzer, Fred Derkin, Orrie Cather, and Inspecter Cramer good bye.

Luckily, we don't have to since they stay alive between the pages of our books.

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And here is a small bonus review:

rouault les maitresrouault les maitres by Rouault

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tiny gem written in French, German and English. Gives a brief overview of the French artist, Georges Rouault's life and work.

Rouault belonged to the Fauvist school, which took place in the early years of the 20th century, with Henri Matisse who is considered the leader of this movement. His paintings of clowns and prostitutes are considered social and moral commentaries.

Later his paintings became increasingly spiritual and existential.

There are about 60 prints in black and white of his paintings. His work shows his deep commitment to his Christian faith and also his compassion for the people he saw in his native Paris.

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And now I would like to introduce you to Lt. Columbo:

 Hercule was not being very nice to Lt. Foyle and Foyle very much wanted to be buddies with Hercule.  We did not want him to be lonely so we got him a friend his own size.  This is Lt. Columbo.  Isn't he pretty?  I've not seen a tri-colored parakeet before.