This commemorative book celebrates Maestro James Levine's forty years at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. It presents a chronology of Levine's...moreThis commemorative book celebrates Maestro James Levine's forty years at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. It presents a chronology of Levine's tenure, illustrated with tributes, anecdotes, and short essays by Levine and many of the people he worked with at the Met (mostly singers, but also administrators, musicians, directors, students, et al.) The book is lavishly illustrated with numerous pictures from the various productions described in the text.
Given Levine's long tenure in a leading role at the Met (his titles have included, Principal Conductor, Music Director, and Artistic Director), it was no surprise to see a lot of praise for his musicianship. I particularly appreciated the way the various tributes and anecdotes in this book illustrate Levine's other strengths---his ability to work with and advise singers of all stripes, his sheer joy in the music he creates, his team-oriented approach, his ability to build and maintain a world-class orchestra and chorus, and his efforts to expand the operatic repertoire both with modern works and with less commonly performed historic pieces.
Since I grew up in New York and started attending the Met at about the same time Levine started conducting there, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It was a fun trip down memory lane, as I heard (or heard of) many of the performers who contributed to the book. I also recognized many of the sets and productions in the pictures, either from seeing them live, or from the various Live from the Met telecasts. This book also provided new insights and new appreciation for the magic that has happened at the Met under Levine's leadership.
David Orr, a poetry critic, writes an approachable book about modern poetry. This is not dense literary analysis that makes you feel that you need a P...moreDavid Orr, a poetry critic, writes an approachable book about modern poetry. This is not dense literary analysis that makes you feel that you need a PhD in English to understand it, nor is it a pedagogical book that explains the fundamentals form and meter. Instead it is a thoughtful conversation about different aspects of contemporary poetry---poets and ambition, poetry and politics, the modern mixing of poetry and academia (the preferred sinecure for the modern poet is, apparently, a university appointment), etc.
Orr's style is easily approachable. No special background with literary jargon is required, nor is an extensive knowledge of 20th (and 21st) century poets. Orr introduces most, if not all, of the poets he discusses. He also has a fun sense of humor that he deploys just often enough to entertain without detracting from the more serious goals of the book.(less)
This is the second Mary Poppins book. Like the first, it presents a sterner, less sugar-coated Poppins than the one most people are familiar with from...moreThis is the second Mary Poppins book. Like the first, it presents a sterner, less sugar-coated Poppins than the one most people are familiar with from the Disney movie. Several chapters in this book inspired scenes in the Broadway musical, most notably the episode with Miss Andrew and her lark.
The similarities here go beyond the same characters and the same writing style. At first I thought that Travers was simply re-using her ideas---an upside down tea party, instead of one floating at the ceiling, and an evening out with at a celestial circus, instead of an evening at the zoo. But after a while I had to conclude that this was deliberate on Travers' part. Every chapter in this book has a twin in the first. This stories are different, and still entertaining. But there is an inevitable reference to the partner from the first book. I'm not sure what to make of this beyond the curiosity of it. I'll be interested to see what Jackie thinks.(less)
On a recent trip to New York City, our daughter wanted to see Mary Poppins, the musical. I tracked down some discount tickets and we went. Somewhat to...moreOn a recent trip to New York City, our daughter wanted to see Mary Poppins, the musical. I tracked down some discount tickets and we went. Somewhat to my surprise, the play was more than just a translation of the Disney movie to stage. While it included many songs from the movie and repeated many of the favorite lines, it also made major changes to the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and added a variety of new plot elements. In contrasting the play with the movie, I got to wondering whether the new material came from the Mary Poppins books, or from the producers' imaginations. Since we had a copy of the book at home (Jackie used to teach it), I decided to read it and find out.
This was an entertaining book, but one that probably works much better for its intended audience---kids. My curiosity about the book, and enjoyment of it, largely came from seeing the source material for the Disney movie (and the Broadway musical). It left me wishing my daughter were a bit younger (6-8) so I could try reading it to her. In fact, I find it puzzling that we didn't read it to her, considering that she's always enjoyed Mary Poppins, the movie, and we've probably had the book since before she was born.
The book has many similarities to the movie. Mary Poppins is a magical nanny who mysteriously shows up at the home of Jane and Michael Banks (and their younger twin siblings). The book consists of twelve chapters, each of which tells of a different story or adventure. Some of these incidents are familiar from the movie---jumping into chalk pavement pictures and having tea floating in mid-air. But despite the many plot similarities, the overall tenor of the book is quite different from the movie. Mary is just as magical, but much less sugar-coated---sterner and more formidable. And in the book, there is no notion that Mary has come to 17 Cherry Tree Lane to "fix" the Banks family. Also, unlike the movie where most of the magic seems to stem from Mary, in the book, Mary is one of many characters who seem to live as part of a magical extension to the real world.
Many reviewers (here and on other sites) describe the Mary Poppins of the books as "mean." She is definitely not as kindly as in the movie, but I really don't see her being mean. She is stern, and definitely not going out of her way to make the world a better place for everyone. But even in the book, Mary has her acts of kindness (the Christmas Shopping chapter comes to mind).
And, in answer to my original question, at least some of the new material in the musical came from the book. The character of Mrs. Corry, for example, someone the kids buy gingerbread from. But beyond the superficial details, she is a different character, and the significance of her gingerbread is completely different.
Each summer, our daughter attends Kidstock, a week-long drama camp. In one week, the kids put together a (highly-adapted) presentation of a Shakespear...moreEach summer, our daughter attends Kidstock, a week-long drama camp. In one week, the kids put together a (highly-adapted) presentation of a Shakespeare play. This summer it is A Midsummer Night's Dream. By coincidence, this will also be the 8th grade play at her school this coming year. So I figured it would be good to refresh my memory on the details of the drama, which I hadn't read since high school.
It's a good play, of course. But I found myself enjoying it less then some of Shakespeare's other comedies. While most (all?) of the comedies have multiple plot lines intertwined with each other, I felt it didn't work as well here as in, say Much Ado About Nothing, or Twelfth Night. Each plot line felt barely developed, with no sense of who these characters are. In some ways it was just a set of (great) scenes strung together on a skeleton of a plot.
The language, of course, is a blast. I loved how the noble lovers speak (mostly) in rhymed verse while Bottom and the other players speak in more mundane prose. Now I want to see a good production of the play. Any recommendations for a film version?(less)
It is not a list of the 101 'best' whiskies in the world.
It is simply, a...moreThe opening lines of the introduction say it all:
[This] is not an awards list.
It is not a list of the 101 'best' whiskies in the world.
It is simply, as it says in the title, a guide to 101 whiskies that enthusiasts really should seek out and try—love them or hate them—to complete their whisky education.
The author has selected 101 whiskies from around the world representing a range of tastes and styles. There are single malts and blended whiskies, bourbons and ryes, whiskies from major producers (Scotland, Ireland, the US), and from places you wouldn't expect (India, Sweden).
Buxton comes across as straight-foward and honest. He tells you what he likes about the whiskies, and also what he doesn't like. Not all of these drinks are his personal favorites. He also includes a bit of history and local color about many of the items, as well as the to-be-expected descriptions of their taste.
Buxton also wants you to actually have a chance of trying these whiskies, so he avoids limited bottlings and other hard-to-find items. And most of the items are affordable, too (although he does include a small number of whiskies that will set you back $500 - $1000 per bottle---such as a 40 year old Highland Park).
By my count I've had 14 of the whiskies described here. This book has given me a number of ideas for new things to try. Only 87 more to go!(less)
Edward Glaeser is a Harvard economist who has lived much of his life in major cities. In this highly-readable book he provides an economist's view of...moreEdward Glaeser is a Harvard economist who has lived much of his life in major cities. In this highly-readable book he provides an economist's view of how and why cities work (or fail to work). The book is full of examples drawn from major cities of the U.S. and the world (Boston, New York, Detroit, Houston, Paris, Vancouver, Bangalore, etc.)
Glaeser describes the interactions between growth and affordability, arguing that cities which restrict growth via height limits, excessive preservation, and NIMBYism are much more expensive to live in (New York, Boston, Silicon Valley), while cities with less restrictive development rules are more affordable (Houston).
Glaeser also argues that public policy should address poverty (urban poverty in this case) by investing in people, not places. So he favors government efforts to provide education and to make cities safe and healthy, but large infrastructure projects in a declining city will not reverse the city's fortune.
In his discussion of urban sprawl, Glaeser describes the many ways that government policies tilt the table in favor of suburban sprawl and away from cities. While Glaeser clearly likes cities, this is not a diatribe against suburban living. He repeatedly says that it is fine for people who want large houses on large lots to live that way. He simply argues that it isn't good for the government to subsidize this life-style choice more than others.
And there's lots of other interesting material here---why the age of the internet isn't the death-knell for dense urban centers, "consumer cities" that attract people who want to enjoy the amenities they offer, cities and the environment, etc. Throughout, Glaeser also provides historical overviews of urban trends (cities as a reflection of the local transportation networks, the rise of the suburb, the role of sanitation in keeping cities healthy) and interesting factual tidbits that illustrate his points. For example, "In the United States as a whole, as of 2008, there are 1.8 times as many people working in grocery stores as in full-service restaurants... In Manhattan there are 4.7 times more people working in restaurants than in groceries." (less)