A Number of Things

  • A Number imageToronto's CanStage Theatre will be producing Caryl Churchill's play A Number from January 9 to February 11. Why do I know this? Because in the program they're using an adapted version of my post about the script. I just saw the finished copy, and the design and layout of the piece is beautiful, with an evocative, mysterious, and sexy illustration that would be perfect alongside a lot of things I've written. The '05/'06 season looks to be extraordinary, and even includes a one-man show about one of the great American singer-songwriters, Tom Lehrer. They just finished Edward Albee's marvelous The Goat, and will later be doing Doug Wright's I am My Own Wife. It's enough to make me want to move to Toronto!

  • A lot of books have been coming in recently, many of them quite exciting. My favorite so far, and easily my favorite book of the year, is Laurence Senelick's collection of Chekhov's Complete Plays. This is published by Norton, and it includes many texts not previously available in English, including both versions of Ivanov and of the marvelous monologue "On the Evils of Tobacco". Additionally, there are copious annotations, introductions to everything, a chronology of Chekhov's life, and a magnificent chapter on all the plays Chekhov intended to write but didn't for one reason or another. Not being able to read Russian, I can't go into details about the good, bad, and ugly of the translations themselves, but the extraordinary attention to detail, and the fact that Senelick has been working on some of these scripts since the late '60s, makes me believe these are at least as good as any other translations available in English. That they have also, many of them, been produced is also heartening, because it means these scripts have been viewed not just as words on a page, but as blueprints for actors, directors, designers, and audiences. I'll be writing a lot more about this book after I've gotten the chance to live in it for a while.

  • The book mentioned above caused me to finally revisit an old Chekhov list I'd put up at Amazon in the days before I knew about blogs. It's certainly not definitive, but it is more accurate now.

  • Another great book that has been distracting me from lots of other things I need to do is Samuel Delany's About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews, just published by Wesleyan. I devoured about a quarter of it yesterday after it arrived, despite needing to read an awful lot of other things. And, on the basis of a quarter of it alone, I can say this: It's the best book on writing (and reading) that I know of other than John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House. The four letters alone are worth the price of the book, but there's so much more here, too, including the interview with Steve Erickson from the first issue of Black Clock, various essays from his entire career, and even an appendix of thoughts on grammar and style. Some of these pieces have appeared in others of Delany's nonfiction collections, but there's a lot that's new. All of it is uniquely Delany: tremendously thought-provoking, occasionally infuriating, sometimes impenetrable, and on the whole dazzling. (If this sounds like a review, it isn't -- that will come later when I figure out who will let me review it -- this is an exhortation: If you care about writing and reading, you must get this book.)

  • I'm 50 pages from the end of Jay Lake's novel Rocket Science, and it's a joy. It's just an utterly engaging story, but only a few books this year have seemed to me to succeed at being such things (Anansi Boys would be another), and I'm delighted. In fact, I need to stop typing now, because I can't wait to find out how it ends...
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