Monday, March 15, 2010

City of Thieves

by David Benioff

This is an excellent book. It creates that rare sense of not being able to put the book down, but not wanting to speed through it without allowing yourself to let it all sink in. Benioff presents the gruesome, unimaginable realities of WWII Russia with unexpected and inappropriately hilarious humor. The juxtaposition is striking and could not have succeeded any better than it does. Benioff knows how to manipulate and use language to create strikingly vivid scenes. Even his metaphors and similes are given lives of their own. In a short manner of time, Benioff creates characters, even fringe characters, with enough personality and back-story, so that you have a true understanding of them. Benioff is a true story teller, with a compelling story to tell. Truly, one of the best books I have read in a while. Brilliant.

I truly think this book should be included in any WWII/Holocaust lit class. This book is about the side of the war you don't hear as much about, but it is absolutely as valid. It is an excellent story.

The opening of the book reminds me of Maus by Art Spiegelman, the story within a story, a sense of metafiction, but to a much lesser degree than Maus. The stories have little to do with each other, other than the fact that they are about survivors of WWII. There's even a cat/mouse metaphor in City of Thieves, but that's it.

I must have a soft spot in my heart for coming of age stories, or bildungsroman, if you will. Some of my favorite novels are "coming of age stories": The Song of the Lark, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

City of Thieves is an exceptional book, brilliantly written. It may require a strong stomach, but it is well worth reading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Andromeda Strain

by Michael Crichton

I just love that the San Antonio Express-News called this book "a crackerjack of a novel." Crackerjack. When was the last time you heard that word used?

Anyway, I like this book. It's not what I would normally pick up, but I did enjoy it. On the whole, the novel is pretty cold and void of emotion. It's a technical sci-fi novel, but interesting nonetheless and, yes, Crichton was ahead of his time.

What I don't like is all the references to speeches, conferences, publications, etc. For some reason that bothers me. It's like reading a term paper. But on top of that, all the references aren't real. I understand Crichton took the time to create all these references to make the story appear more realistic; that's what the acknowledgments are all about. But it annoys me. I can't read those publications. Again, I see why he did it, but I find it unnecessary and frustrating. I am glad though that he saved the references for the end of the book instead of footnoting it all, because that would have driven me up a wall.

I will admit, I did watch the movie before the book, but I liked the book better. I felt like the movie tried to over-dramatize everything, where as the book keeps it clinical. I think that the book's lack of emotion evokes a better reaction from the readers. Crichton allows the readers to have their own reactions and draw their own conclusions. Well played.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Let me preface this by saying I watch the Food Network like it's my job.

One of my favorite shows to watch is The Best Thing I Ever Ate on the Food Network. It showcases some fantastic, mouth-watering, want to eat your TV screen food, naturally. But that's not the only reason I like the show. I love to hear these chefs and food writers talk about food.

I love listening to people speak about their passions. It's truly telling of all people, I think. Obviously you gain an understanding of what people love, but there's something much deeper that happens when they speak. When people bring you into their world, into their minds and souls, you get the truest glimpse of them. To speak about your passions is to expose yourself in a very vulnerable way, open to public scrutiny. It's scary to be so candid and open about what you love, what you live for. But there is something great about seeing that kind of rare genuineness in people.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let's Talk About Polyphony


Musicpolyphonic composition; counterpoint.


consisting of many voices or sounds.
having two or more voices or parts, each with an independent melody, but all harmonizing; contrapuntal (opposed to homophonic).

I love early music; early as in pre-Bach. And early music is all about the polyphony. It makes the music challenging, beautiful, complex, and so much fun to sing, in my opinion.

But I'm talking about a different Polyphony: the professional English vocal group led by Stephen Layton. They are the embodiment of everything I want to achieve as a musician. Their sound and their musical sensitivity is heartbreakingly beautiful in the most exquisite way. They approach vocal music so purely and clearly; they truly let the music speak for itself, without trying to make it important. When they sing, it is simplicity at its best. They produce sheer joy, in vocal form. You can almost see the beams of light surrounding them when they lock chords so perfectly. I'm a bit of a music snob, but Polyphony brings me to tears.

Today I decided that I could not live one more day without owning their cd Cloudburst. First of all, Eric Whitacre is a genre unto himself. His compositions are incredible. He has mastered the most basic and essential (in my opinion) concepts of music: tension and release. No one manipulates dissonances and suspensions like Whitacre. His music truly speaks to the heart. Although, I don't love the some of the poem translations he uses for text, but that's beside the point.

I have to say, I am disappointed in Barnes & Noble for not having the cd or knowing of Polyphony, but I realize they're not exactly the most trendy of groups.

Anyway, I bought the cd through itunes, plus two other songs they recorded which I am singing in an upcoming choir concert.

Even if you think classical music is stuffy and old fashioned or think choir music is dull and boring, I challenge you to listen to a Polyphony recording and not be moved.