Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Irony of Manifest Destiny
by William Pfaff. Walker and Company, 222 pages.

William Pfaff's dissection of American foreign policy is a compact examination that focuses on both the political and religious motivations behind America's involvement in International conflicts. One is tempted to say that it's a timely read, but with America now involved in a pseudo-war with Libya, it feels as if Mr. Pfaff's book will also have some modern relevance. It's unfortunate, then, that Mr. Pfaff's style is not always as succinct as his ideas. Although his ideas are sound, there are times when he becomes so verbose that his thoughts are lost within the density of his own prose.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
W.W. Norton and Co. 254 pages.

A novel that puts the literary into literary fiction, "The History of Love" assaults you with its originality. Author Nicole Krauss toyed with chronology, structure and standard page formatting in crafting this post-modern book about a book (called, naturally, "The History of Love"). In doing so, she succeeded in getting everyone's attention (it was nominated for an Orange Prize, among others). There is definitely much to admire in Krauss' book and it almost demands a second reading. Yet at times, it feels like she was trying just a little too hard to be quirky and daring. Put another way, there were plenty of moments when it was a little too obvious that the artist was in the room.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

O Henry Awards: Prize Stories 1962
Doubleday and Company, 250 pages

Reading short stories that are almost fifty years old is a nice form of literary time travel: as a genre, the short story tends to favor the modern era and so this collection of fifteen stories gives a pretty good glimpse into a lost world, one that not even the best season of Mad Men has quite been able to touch. The politics and social concerns of the entire era run as an undercurrent to these stories, whether its racism in John Updike's The Doctor's Wife or Cold War relations in Tom Cole's Familiar Usage in Leningrad.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fosca by Igino Ugo Tarchetti
Translated by Lawrence Venuti
Classic Books, 154 Pages

As a fan of the Sondheim musical Passion, it has long been a desire to read the book that inspired the show. A classic of Italian literature, Tarchetti's Fosca was originally a satirical novel written as a form of scapigliatura, a19th century Italian artistic movement which rebelled against convention. In chronicling the amorous affairs between the soldier Giorgio, the married Clara and the ugly Fosca, Tarchetti presented several passions which would have been considered gravely immoral at the time of writing. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fine and Dandy: The Life and Works of Kay Swift
by Vicki Ohl, Yale University Press, 294 Pages

A rich melancholy pervades the pages of Ohl's extensive biography of Broadway's first female composer. For those fans of George Gershwin, Kay Swift's name is a popular one - she was his personal secretary / paramour and it's likely they might have married if he hadn't died of a brain tumor in 1937. But Kay Swift was also a multi-talented composer, lyricist and author who has the distinction of being the first female composer to have a musical comedy ("Fine and Dandy") on the Great White Way.