I think I liked this book best for the education it provided about the rise of the Bolsheviks and the disintegration of Russia. I enjoyed reading abou...moreI think I liked this book best for the education it provided about the rise of the Bolsheviks and the disintegration of Russia. I enjoyed reading about the movement from a working class perspective, rather than from the removed, hilltop view that my old history books seemed to take. (less)
I felt morally obligated to read an in-depth biography of the dancer for a variety of reasons. This book took me a good six months of slogging, slowly...moreI felt morally obligated to read an in-depth biography of the dancer for a variety of reasons. This book took me a good six months of slogging, slowly, painfully, through the incredibly messy life of Duncan. Perhaps I chose the wrong book for my education. Seroff's book is sort of a reaction to other biographies of the dancer, so there was a lot of, "In this biography, they say this, but it's not true because I knew her and she would never do this or that." According to Seroff, her "My Life" was written for cash, and is a huge exaggeration of her exploits.
After finishing the book, Ducan is still very much an enigma. I still can't figure out if I would have liked her in person if I had met her. Her behavior at times seems horrifically self-centered, which can be excusable--after all she is an artist. At other moments though, it verges on really, really weird. She was so careless with her life and with the way she treated others. Sometimes I wonder if she suffered from a lack of self-reflection, instead using the public as a forum to test out her ideas to great aplomb, or astonishing failure. For example, she was banned in Boston for taking of her top off on stage and pointing at her breasts saying, "This. This is art!"
At other moments, I felt very sorry for her, as many of people she surrounded herself were sniveling sycophants, or users and manipulators.
One this is clear though. Although she made a great hash of her life, she possessed an incredible amount of charisma, the power to whip audiences into a fervor that caused them to hate her or worship her. Charisma is a huge part of dance. As is musicality, which I imagine she had in spades. She also seemed to have this supernatural power with men of all types: the sewing machine heir, the non-english speaking Russian poet, the set designer.
Now that I'm done, I think I'm safe to answer any questions about Ducan, if pressed. But I'm certainly not planning on reading another biography of her. I'm exhausted. (less)
I've never read about Isadora Duncan before and she certainly sounds like a firebrand from this book--and sometimes a real pain. You learn that she wa...moreI've never read about Isadora Duncan before and she certainly sounds like a firebrand from this book--and sometimes a real pain. You learn that she was forthright with her opinions and doggedly followed her artistic vision, which I respect, but I also wondered if perhaps she took pleasure in telling people exactly the opposite of what they wanted to hear. I'm going to read a second biography of her now, so hopefully I can get a clearer picture.
I wish that there was more footage of her dancing; I'm curious to see her movement philosophy in action.
In terms of the quality of this book, it kind of reminded me of one of those biography books I read in fifth grade that I used to write a report (I still remember those reports vividly. My favorites were the ones I did Clipper Ships--I still think those are cool, The Santa Inez Mission--complete with an oil pastel rendition of the facade, and Chile--which sounded like it had great skiing, even to my 5th grade self). But everything was laid out nicely, even a timeline in the back on the book.
Remaining question: I wonder if I would have liked Duncan if I had met her.
p.s. I think it's kind of funny that she is part of the "American Troublemakers" series. She seems like she belongs more to Europe than America based on the way and where she chose to live her life. Sandomir spends a significant chuck of the last chapter explaining why Duncan's behavior and life were classically American. The fact that he needed to do this makes me skeptical, particularly since she seems to have been very vocal about her lack of interested in the U.S. (less)
Quiet and simple, this book grew on me. Actually, it mades me rethink my (embarrassing!) decision to abandon Middlesex a couple years ago.
Now that I'...moreQuiet and simple, this book grew on me. Actually, it mades me rethink my (embarrassing!) decision to abandon Middlesex a couple years ago.
Now that I've had some time to mull over this book, I think it might be one of my favorites this year. Basically, it's a story of a love
Of the three characters, Mitchell was definitely my favorite. I liked how introspective he was and interested in turning his inner turmoil into positive action. Even though he thought he failed, I found him endearing and self aware. Eugenides' portrayal of Bankhead was also powerful. Mental illness is a complex and troubling disease--also for the people who live alongside those who suffer from it. I think the fact that I was uncomfortable as I read about Madeline and Leonard's toils is a testament to his crystalline characterization.
This is another one of those books that arrived at the office and somehow ended up on my nightstand, vaulting past other, more difficult, reads. It's...moreThis is another one of those books that arrived at the office and somehow ended up on my nightstand, vaulting past other, more difficult, reads. It's a lightweight jaunt through the lives of eight royal brides, some of which I found irritating--Marie Antoinette--and many I thought sounded long-suffering--such as Alexandra of Denmark, and Leopoldina, Empress of Brazil.
Like most non-fiction works, I learned a few things. I was mostly interested to read about the challenges of living in Brazil in the early 1800s and Prussia in the mid to late 1800s. Both places sounded, well, kind of miserable. All in all, I liked Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, the best, mostly because I think Naples is one of the most fascinating contemporary cities I've ever visited and I'm sure that it must have been bewitching in the late 1700s, filled with Neapolitan horses, visitors such as Cassanova, Sarah Goudar, Emma Hart, the Hamiltons, and of course, Italian comic opera. I'd be interested in reading more about Naples during this era. (less)
What a fun read. I didn't know much about the central characters before I dived into this nonfiction book, so each page was a surprise. I also learned...moreWhat a fun read. I didn't know much about the central characters before I dived into this nonfiction book, so each page was a surprise. I also learned an enormous amount about wines, how they age, and which brands are the most hoity-toity; I could probably pretend to be a terrible snob now. Unfortunately, several years ago I took a vacation that included several visits to wineries and sadly determined that although I can (sort of) tell the difference between a 10 dollar wine and an 80 dollar one, that's about it. Anything aside from the cheapest wines seemed to taste the same to me.
My most high brow experience from that trip was probably the glass of (relatively cheap) Chateau Margeaux that tasted velvety soft with all sorts of berry and woodsy flavors commingling in one glass--a very cool sensory experience. Mostly all I remember is how mean all the other wine aficionados were. On one tour, an American couple asked a question about the "toast." I did not know what that word meant and piped up, "What's toast?" before enduring their withering glares. The tour guide was happy to educate, but the other guests were put out. I often think that learning is a life-long adventure if you can side-step all the know-it-alls that try and protect the currency of their knowledge. I guess that's what good books are for.
Speaking of which, the book read a bit like a suspense novel, with more and more allegations piling up to condemn various members of the inner circle. It's too bad that most of the pivotal characters were men, except for the despised Serena Sutcliff and the ignored woman from Monticello, but I did get a peek into the strange world of wine super collectors. This book also made me interested in reading more about Thomas Jefferson, whose meticulous attention to detail is awe-inspiring, among his many, many other awe-inspiring qualities. I strongly recommend this book to wine drinkers, connoisseurs, and fans of movies similar to Catch Me If You Can. Cheers! (less)
I've had several teachers who worked with Nureyev, and the stories I've heard are not pretty. This biography pretty much confirmed that impression for...moreI've had several teachers who worked with Nureyev, and the stories I've heard are not pretty. This biography pretty much confirmed that impression for me. Although his acts of generosity towards his proteges are carefully documented, in general I found the dancer vile. He treats so many people in his life as if they are expendable and all the beautiful dancing in the world doesn't excuse that kind of behavior. (*UPDATE--I spoke with one of my teachers who worked with him and he changed his tune, saying that Nureyev truly cared about dancers and it upset him greatly the way dancers were treated like children. It's quite a contrast from his previous story.)
I understand that he was an artist with a huge level of suffering: broken by the separation from his family, scorned by choreographers, plagued by political machinations. But the tantrums, screaming and general destructiveness of his personality probably did not help him in his career and private goals.
As a biography, this was some project. I think the author spent 10 years working on it and you can really tell by the intense level of detail--sometimes too much detail. I enjoyed filling in quite a few gaps in my knowledge about the history of 20th century dance. In particular, it was interesting to learn that Nureyev discovered and nurtured Sylvie Guillem, who is dancer with almost inhuman capabilities. I was also interested to hear about his relationship with Baryshnikov and Makarova.
After reading this book, things I respect about Nureyev: 1. His incredible, insatiable, attitude toward the acquisition of knowledge. The man was tireless. 2. His work ethic. I had heard stories from former teachers about how no one had ever seen someone who worked harder than Nureyev in class, and the book confirmed that impression. 3. His conviction that he had to create his own luck and create his own opportunities.
If you are a balletomane, you'll probably enjoy this book, but I don't recommend it for a light study of the art form. It's more historical than narrative. But very well done and thorough. (less)
I was surprised by the level of vitriol in some reviews of Paulina's book. Certainly, it was no Tale of Two Cities, but I thought the first half of th...moreI was surprised by the level of vitriol in some reviews of Paulina's book. Certainly, it was no Tale of Two Cities, but I thought the first half of the book displayed intelligent writing and a few lovely metaphors. I also thought that the mechanics of the industry were laid out in a comprehensible way.
The second half of the book, however, is as if a different author took over. The main character transitions from an innocent, to a cold-blooded, jaded, drinking, drugged out, caricature of a model. I just didn't buy it. You can't smash together every silly anecdote of a naive model into one book, and I suspect that this is what the author did. You know from the first half of the book that the character is not stupid, so after the 10th accidental drug ingestion, visit to the moroccan hospital, etc. you stop believing. I think the tone fell apart at that point.
For my purposes: I'm researching the "Industry" for a project, this book was supremely helpful. (less)
I had no idea that Julie Child's career as a chef began when she was 36 years old! Child's a fun read, not just for her meandering foray into the nice...moreI had no idea that Julie Child's career as a chef began when she was 36 years old! Child's a fun read, not just for her meandering foray into the niceties of French cooking, but for her attitude. Not once does she say, "poor me" when they are shipped off to Germany and Oslo, or her husband is packed away to a nursing home. I definitely enjoyed this book. (less)
This book was insane, but also one of the most enlightening books I've read in a long time. It was embarrassing to realize how little I know (or remem...moreThis book was insane, but also one of the most enlightening books I've read in a long time. It was embarrassing to realize how little I know (or remember) about the years that led up to WWII (I'm going to blame it on a science-focused preliminary education), and the motif that really impressed me was the massive, terrible, tidal wave of momentum that led up to the second "great" war.
The Sisters makes you think a lot about human nature and how ethics begin with the smallest actions. I once interviewed the dean of religious life at Stanford and he told me that the hardest ethical decisions are the little ones. "Everyone knows that killing is wrong, but those little decisions you make when no one is looking--those are the real tests."
There was an abundance of willful ignorance and laziness in Europe at that time. It's scary. I hope those mistakes are never repeated.
I'm not quite sure why a book about six sisters who had a penchant for dictators, communist activists and titled people made me think about this so much, but I think it was a fresh way way for me to learn about the war through the eyes of women who were sitting in on influential dinners, tea parties, the season, etc. Sometimes you learn more about the heart of a situation through the circumstantial. (less)
Iconoclast that she is, George Sand's independent spirit and astute observatory powers are evident from the first page of her memoirs, which begin wit...moreIconoclast that she is, George Sand's independent spirit and astute observatory powers are evident from the first page of her memoirs, which begin with her early childhood and finish up with her affair with Chopin--who sounds like a total sap. (I say that in a fond way, Chopin is one of my favorite composers and I loved the movie Impromptu).
It's interesting to read about Sand's contempt for the Ton of the 19th century, people who sound like they've taken a few too many ballet lessons. There is a one description of an elderly lady who is quite fond of her pale arms and feels the need to expose them at dinner parties that feels as contemporary as a description of an aging actress with a close, personal relationship with Botox. Sand's teenage travails in a convent in Paris are equally terrifying. Life without central heating must have been terrible indeed!
I thought this book was a better description of how monasteries and the clerical world functioned during Medieval times than a great love story. That...moreI thought this book was a better description of how monasteries and the clerical world functioned during Medieval times than a great love story. That being said, I learned a lot. It was interesting to me to learn about their form of democracy which was more like mob rule than an organized system--they had some sort of fascinating term for it that I can't recall at this moment.
Heloise was more interesting to me that Abelard, who sounded kind of socially inept. Every single work situation he entered into ended in shambles--after a while, all you can think is that he's the one with the problem. But, genius does tend to irritate people. I also wondered if he was sort of the equivalent to the unhinged bad-boy lead singer with Heloise as his band groupie. After all, he did write songs for Heloise's abbey. Poor Heloise...
P.S. I have a feeling this story is a little early to be shelved as Courtly Love Era, but I went ahead and did it anyway. (less)
This is one of those well-written journalistic travel books by an author with expertise in a specific field, this time a wine critic rambling through...moreThis is one of those well-written journalistic travel books by an author with expertise in a specific field, this time a wine critic rambling through California, Italy, and France. Osborne is a fabulous writer, entertaining and self-deprecating. Some of his turns of phrase are a little exuberant, others require a dictionary, but all in all I enjoyed this book.
One thing that was interesting: Osborne rails on Napa. The town is "Disneyfied," the sunlight "shrill," everything is a copy without sense of history. As a native Californian, I was a little taken aback, but as a Californian traveling through Bordeaux as I read it, I have to admit I can see where he's coming from.
I do think that in a very sly way, Osborne teaches the reader lot about wine in this book. It's probably a little more than I ever wanted to know, but now I'm curious to taste all those Nebbiolos, Lafites, and Opus 1s. It may take me 80 years to earn enough to pay for a bottle, but who cares. Osborne does a great job of showing how deeply individual wine taste can be; and that much of great wine is simply being in a magical place or drinking with people who you care about. (less)