Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Bauhaus Ideal Then and Now by William Smock

I cannot get enough of J.S.Bach Piano Concerto in D Minor D Minor BWV 1052 Polina Osetinskaya Anton Gakkel

My little T-Rex somehow got a hold of one of my niece's hair ties. He is being very naughty and will not let me get it off of him.  He nipped me!

The Bauhaus Ideal Then and Now: An Illustrated Guide to Modern DesignThe Bauhaus Ideal Then and Now: An Illustrated Guide to Modern Design by William Smock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting overview of the history of Bauhaus art. William Smock gives a fairly balanced view of an art style which has influenced not only art styles, but architecture, machines and even electronic devices. He enhances his essays with personal drawings that illustrate the buildings, art, inventions and also the artists who founded this group.

Bauhaus building

The Bauhaus group started as a design school in Germany after World War I. Literally, it means, "house of building". Their goal was to replace the fussy detail of Victorian art, furniture and buildings with clean, rational lines. Their buildings are known for their square, blocky and cold patterns. Some of the better known members of the group were: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; Paul Klee; Wassily Kandinsky and the founder, Walter Gropius.

The American architect, Louis Sullivan, in the late 19th century stipulated that form follows function. The Bauhaus group carried that to an extreme. Examples of Bauhaus is the Seagram Building in New York City (for comparison one can look at the Empire State building, which is Art Deco). Another command is less is more.

Bauhaus designed furniture

Unfortunately, the Bauhaus was a great theory but did not pan out in real life. Take for instance Philip Johnson's glass houses. An interesting concept to be sure, but the design did not take into account the oppressive heat from the sun boiling into the interior without the protection of walls or even curtains. And, of course, it's not an edifice that you're going to be doing anything you wouldn't do in public, hence a neighboring house for "private activities".

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

In Paris the Nation Library with its glass towers also disregards the fact that sunlight is bad for books. All the windows are now blocked by blank wooden doors.

The Design Building for the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago has turned out to be a lousy place to study and a glass box for a theater in German also proved to be bad because theaters have to be dark, so an interior room shielding the light was built on the inside. The same goes for a glass art museum, since light hurts paintings. All three were designed by Mies van der Rohe. You'd think he'd have learned something after the first building.

Piet Mondrian


The most obvious case of form not following function are the housing developments in Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri. Supposedly, the buildings were to promote friendly, clean, "honest", functional urban development. Twenty years later they had turned into gang war zones. These buildings have since been demolished.

Smock concludes that while there is no doubt that Bauhaus heavily influenced future design of architecture and design in many fields, from kitchen appliances to cars, they are most successful at creating art objects.

Walter Gropius (18 May 1883 – 5 July 1969), founder of the Bauhaus School
And I must admit, that I like the Bauhaus ideal and especially its paintings.

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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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