Saturday, January 26, 2008

Performing Arts

There's something ironic about performing arts. I'm listening to a classical music channel on Dish Network. When I hear something new or unusual I can glance at the text on the screen listing the title of the piece, the artist, the title and label of the CD. But it seems odd to me that the "artist" listed is the performer, not the composer.

Music, like dance and theater, only exists in the moment - and memory. The composer creates a work of art and succeeding generations of performers make it available to listeners. In my experience with music, we seem celebrate the composer more than the performer. I'm more likely to say, "I want to hear Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony," than to say "I want to hear the London Philharmonic." Of course, there's a point of sophistication at which I may say, "I want to hear the London Philharmonic recording of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony."

It's even more ironic in dance. I know the names of a few dancers and choreographers. But I'm quite likely to know the composer of the music. (Why isn't there a form of dance without music?) In theater, I'm likely to know the name of the writer and a couple of the actors, but not the director. Hmm...

I'm intrigued by the idea of painting or sculpting as a performing art. What if you could watch an artist creating an original work - or reproducing a master piece? That may sound deadly dull to most people, but I think it would be interesting.

Monday, January 21, 2008

At my next bookclub meeting, we'll be choosing six books to read in the coming year. I'm taking my role in this far too seriously. I feel like I'm about to be exiled to a desert island and I can only take six books. Well, that's not exactly it. On a desert island I'd need books from which I could draw eternal intellectual stimulation and pleasure and comfort. (And maybe a survival guide.)

For my book group, I need books that will have some general appeal (Not so much Flatland - the choice from which my reputation is still recovering. It's not so much that my friends didn't like it. It's that it was a book about - gasp - math! Not a math book, mind you. But a story which required a grasp of some fairly sophisticated math concepts.)

For the bookclub I want books which benefit from the critical reading that the anticipated group discussion requires. Add that to my personal criteria: some classics, some contemporary fiction, something thought provoking that adds to my understanding of the world and the human condition. And, as if that weren't enough, I want beautiful, challenging language.

Okay, I'm ruling out Don Quixote (despite the obvious analogy to my quest for the perfect book.) It definitely meets the criteria. But I'm gonna need weekly discussions for that. And my group only meets every two months. Likewise, Ulysses and many more of the classics on my "to read before I die" list.

I have lists. Nobel Prize winners. Pulitzer Prize winners. Booker Prize winners. New York Times Bestsellers. Random House's Modern Library best novels. Even Oprah's Bookclub. And Rebecca has collected more booklists than I can imagine.

So here are my preliminary picks for contemporary fiction. Ta-da:

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink (NYT Bestseller)

Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngarat (NYT Top 10 Books of the year)

The Hours, Michael Cunningham (Pulitzer Prize Winner)

Tomorrow: classics.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gardening Plans

My opportunity for a "jump start" is rapidly shrinking. As I struggle to adapt to my new job and to get the holiday decorations put away, the seed catalogs are piling up tauntingly on the counter. The March-like weather we've been having makes me feel like I'm weeks behind in planning. Simon's idea for an hour of gardening a day is a good one.

Bill's been building a deluxe model cold frame so we'll be able to start more things early - or earlier - than we usually do. That leads to my rethinking my standard schedule and choices of varieties. If I start lettuce and spinach in the cold frame there will be more space in the raised beds. I can start more annual flowers (tho' I think this is a bad year to try more of anything.)

I must say I find myself drawn to colorful varieties. Easter Egg radishes, Bright Lights Chard, Rainbow or Kaleidoscope carrots and an amazing array of colors of peppers and tomatoes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Book, Books and More Books

Christmas brought me another stack of books for the nightstand long before I finished the last stack.

Irreligion by John Allen Paulos
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
The Universe by Leo Marriott
The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien
World Changing edited by Alex Steffen

I have to be intrigued by a book like World Changing which starts with a section named "Stuff," a concept I use frequently. The book begins:

Our things define us.
What we buy, what we use, what we keep and throw away, what we waste and what we save; the stuff that surrounds us and flows through our lives is a key indicator of the kinds of lives we're living. To be an affluent twenty-first-century person is to float on a sea of material objects -- each with its own history and future.

The following 600 pages are crammed with information about worldwide environmental issues and suggestions for effecting change.

It's that time of year again when I struggle to fit the books onto existing bookshelves. All I managed yesterday was to reduce the risk of the stacks on top from toppling over.

My father built this bookcase when I was about ten years old, from clear pine boards with shelves carefully designed (probably by my mother) to hold the maximum number of various sizes of books. The tall shelves at the lower right used to hold the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I cleaned my closet last week. (Look, no skeletons.) It's easier 'cause I don't like clothes that much. Give me a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of pairs of dress pants, half a dozen shirts, a jacket and I'm good to go. Maybe there's some room for books here...

But really, books and clothes are both easy because I know where to sell them or give them away. I've got a whole room full of other stuff I don't know what to do with. I'm going to try the two "used stuff" stores I know about - one in Dryden and one just south of Ithaca. Wish me luck.