Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some books: reading and ordering

This morning, I read parts of two books: The Girl in the Song: The True Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics (Michael Heatley & Frank Hopkinson) and More Prefaces to Shakespeare (Harley Granville-Barker).

Granville-Barker was an actor, playwright, director and critic who began writing prefaces to Shakespeare's plays back in the '20s. He addresses issues of the text, casting, performance and directorial decisions in these prefaces, which, while academic, possess a lively tone that's smartly conversational. When explaining what one must cut from the text of Macbeth, he writes, "Hecate may be ruled out with hardly a second thought. If this be not true Middleton [the playwright who revised Macbeth], it is at least true twaddle, and Shakespeare—though he had his lapses—was not in a twaddling mood when he wrote Macbeth."

What The Girl in the Song lacks is a CD, or some sort of implanted device that would allow you to hear each song as you read about it. The premise is simple: What female (in same cases, girls rather than women) inspired such-and-such pop/rock song? Each article is two or three pages; there are pictures aplenty; the tone is simultaneously gossipy and circumspect, treating writers and subjects alike with kindness even while giving us the lowdown on sometimes notorious events.

Who knew there was an actual "girl from Ipanema"?

This happens regularly: I pick up at the library a book I've ordered some weeks before, having no idea what prompted the order. (Sometimes it's one story or essay in a collection, or one song on a CD.) To avoid this, I'm going to keep track of the originating events.

The New York Times review of David Foster Wallace's posthumously published The Pale King includes this passage: "I have to say, I’m with Dad here: the world of analytical philosophy appears to me as so much bean-counting — or, rather, enumeration of the ways in which beans might be counted. Literary types tend to be drawn more to the poetic visions of a Heidegger or a Blanchot than to the logical conundrums of a Russell or an Ayer," leading me to ask, "Blanchot?" My public library has one book on BlanchotFoucault, Blanchotwhich seems to be authorless, so I don't know whether it's an analysis of those two philosophers or writings by them or both.

I also ordered a Magnus Mills novel, All Quiet on the Orient Express. I love the two Mills novels I've read, Three to See the King and Explorers of the New Century. The NYT review of the Wallace novel was by Tom McCarthy, who, his byline explains, is the author of the new novel C. I'd seen a previous McCarthy novel on the shelf at the library and wondered whether he was the same Tom McCarthy who wrote and director The Station Agent (one of my favorite films) and The Visitor. Nope. Not the same. A review of one of McCarthy's novels left me a bit cold, but put me in mind of the ever-reliable Mills, thus leading to my ordering another of his works.

Aren't you glad you asked?