03 October 2004

End of a Pause

Though I have been in a self-imposed exile from blogging, I have not been completely absent from the web, with a report on Worldcon appearing in The Internet Review of SF and a review of The Third Alternative at SF Site.

I haven't done too much reading other than for reviews commissioned by various places, the results of which you will find out later. I did manage to see all 6 hours of the HBO miniseries of Angels in America, about which I had quite mixed feelings. I thought many of the performances were excellent, particularly Al Pacino's and Mary Louise Parker's, but Tony Kushner's adaptation of his play was far too faithful to the original and Mike Nichols's direction was uninspired. I'd had great hopes, because eight or nine years ago, when I was at school in New York, I heard Kushner say that he was working with Robert Altman to make a film of the two plays, and that they would be very different from the stage versions because film is such a different medium. Altman didn't last long, but I'd hoped Kushner's willingness to change the script to fit the medium had. Alas, aside from some cuts and rearrangements, it's basically a film of the play -- a very theatrical play, one that works pretty well in a theatre, but which is plodding and awkward on film.

I liked the other film I saw recently, Together, much more. Before watching it, I knew nothing about the movie and so had no expectations for it. It's heartwarming, and I don't usually like heartwarming films, but this one is so unpretentious and witty that I couldn't help being charmed. It's about a Swedish commune in 1975, and I even liked the use of an ABBA song, though I generally consider that band's popularity to be a sign that humanity is doomed.

I read about half of My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, a book I found interesting and impressive, but which I didn't feel any need to finish, because once I'd gotten halfway through I felt like I knew what Pamuk was up to, and since the narrative was not one that gripped me, knowing what he was up to was enough. It's not a bad book, just not one I felt compelled to read to the end.

A book I have been devouring, though, is Jay's Journal of Anomalies, which is both beautifully designed and fascinating. The illustrations are worth the price of admittance alone, but the stories Ricky Jay tells are even better. His style is light and witty while also erudite. If I were given the opportunity to hang out with any one living person, he would definitely be toward the top of the list.

I've also been reading Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, a new translation of Chekhov's letters by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips that is now the best English version of the letters available. (Its only rival is the Karlinsky and Heim edition.) It was Chekhov's letters that made me fall in love with everything else he wrote, and this is the only edition that is completely unexpurgated (though not complete, as Chekhov wrote thousands of letters).

I discovered a couple of items that will soon be available that I'm looking forward to tremendously: a new album from Tom Waits and Paris, Texas on DVD. The latter is particularly welcome, as my videotape of the film is dying. The DVD is remarkably inexpensive, which worries me a little bit -- I just hope it's letterboxed and not pan-and-scan, because the movie is beautifully photographed. And beautifully acted. And beautifully written.

Blogging will continue to be somewhat lighter than it was this summer, but I expect I'll be able to get at least a few things posted every week. Taking a cue from Jeff VanderMeer's reading of John Crowley and Dan Green's of John Updike, I'm going to start a series of informal posts about Eileen Gunn's collected short stories, Stable Strategies and Others. I'll read the stories as I have time and inclination, and will chronicle that reading here. If this seems productive and not boring, I'll do the same with a few other books (I'd very much like to do, for instance, Delany's Aye and Gomorrah), since a blog seems like a good medium for such an endeavor.

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