Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
HarperCollins, 650 pages

Reading books that have won the Booker Prize always leaves one to decide if they have entered the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes. There, as fairy tale devotees will recall, con men trick an Emperor into thinking he has a glorious new outfit made of invisible thread. When he strolls down the street naked, his subjects all pretend they can see the glorious clothes. Only a child has the bravery to admit the truth. When reading a Booker Prize winning novel, then, each reader must decide if they are dealing with a book made of invisible thread. If so, what then? Do you react as the child? Or as the subjects who stood on the street?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fred Astaire by Michael Freedland
W.H. Allen, 1976,  270 pages.

It can be easily said that in the life of Fred Astaire one can chart the evolution of entertainment in the 20th century. Mr. Astaire, one of the century's greatest entertainers, was born in May, 1899 and his career went from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood, with several memorable stops in radio and television. In every way he came to epitomize the transitory nature of the industry of entertainment: it changes in accordance with the times and woe to the entertainer who does not try to change with it. This was not Fred Astaire, as Michael Freedland easily demonstrates in his informative, if slightly pedantic, biography.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Statement by Brian Moore
Flamingo, 1995. 217 pages

Mark Porter, writing for the Sunday Express, remarked that "The Statement" is reminiscent of Graham Greene, a remark which I would attribute to Brian Moore as a whole. Much like Mr. Greene, each of Mr. Moore's books are different, yet each maintain a distinct concern with themes of redemption and a focus on Catholic characters in conflict with either the Church or its teachings. "The Statement" is an accomplished thriller that contains all the necessary trademarks of the genre: the man on the run, a mysterious conspiracy, the determined policeman. Usually in these books, the man on the run is an innocent accused of a crime (ala "The Fugitive"), but in "the Statement" Moore has inverted these characteristics: the man on the run is a Nazi war criminal and capture by the police is actually the only way Brossard will ever be safe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Object of Beauty
by Steve Martin
Grand Central Publishing, 2010. 295 pages.

It's rarely a good thing when a novel's strongest feature is it's opening line: "I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yaeger" writes narrator Daniel Franks and he goes on to confess that until he writes down Lacey's story he will be "unable to write about anything else." It's a good hook with tremendous promise but Mr. Martin fails to meet his own expectations.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes 
by Stephen Sondheim
Knopf, 2010. 408 pages

The perfect gift for the rabid musical theatre fan in your life, "Finishing the Hat" is exactly what its title purports it to be: a collection of lyrics annotated by Mr. Sondheim's opinions and observations from a lifetime in the American theatre. It is these observations that give the book its value - the true aficionado, after all, will already know most of the lyrics by heart.