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Portraits of a Marriage
Portraits of a Marriage
by Sándor Márai
Edition: Hardcover
56 used & new from $0.01

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A treatise on love and class, June 4, 2011
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Each of Sandor Marai's great novels explores a facet of love. Embers was about the bonds of male friendship, Casanova in Bolzano about romantic love, and Portraits of a Marriage is about the relationship between love and class, or love and society.

The plot, in two spoiler-free sentences: the book tells the story of a love triangle. The first big chunk is narrated in the voice of the first wife, the second part is told by the husband, and the third part is told by the 2nd wife. Originally this was published as two novellas. I believe the first two parts were published as a single novella, "Az igazi" ("The real thing") in 1941, while the second half was published only in 1980 as "Judit... és az utóhang" ("Judith and the afterword"), although I am unsure when it was written. The translation is again by Hungarian-English poet George Szirtes, who does an excellent job.

I wonder if Portraits will find its audience, now that it has finally been published in English, because while the themes of Marai's previous books (love, friendship) are universal and will resonate in any time or society, Portraits is concerned, nay, obsessed with the struggle between societal class and love, a struggle that may not really interest most contemporary American readers, or at least not to the exhaustive lengths that Marai spends chronicling it.

In Portraits, Marai preserves a lost world, Hungary before WWII, a society stratified with nobility, upper middle class, middle class, "commoners", "peasants", and all sorts of finer gradations within those, all surreptitiously warring and conniving, in mostly tiny ways and gestures, for status. Money and power, too, but mainly (surprisingly or unsurprisingly) for status. Marai focuses especially on the values, habits, duties and weaknesses of those people either inhabiting or jockeying into Hungary's upper middle class, a kind of eradicated tribe (which ceased to exist after WWII and the communist years afterward), an extinct species that he attempts to preserve, as if in amber, for posterity.

Most of us have read books about class and love. Romeo and Juliet, the works of Jane Austen... But in those stories, the class element serves mostly as a plot device, an adversity the protagonist lovers must overcome (the Montagues vs. the Capulets, Emma can't marry Mr. Darcy because she's poor, or whatever). But Marai doesn't use class to create narrative tension. The tension between class and love, here, is his obsession. And again, I suspect that most readers today just aren't that interested in the topic, at least not 400 pages interested. The fact that there's only one other Amazon review so many months after publication bears my suspicion out.

Which is a shame, because Portraits is a titanic masterpiece. It is literature's reigning masterpiece on love and class, yes, but it's also a masterpiece by any measure, in almost any company. When Embers was first published in English in 2000, excited reviewers talked of re-assessing the 20th century literary pantheon, and the most eager among them suggested that Marai might rank among the greatest writers of the century: Joyce, Proust, Mann... I'm not sure if, now that the rush has worn off and more books published, they would stand by those assessments, but as more and more Marai becomes translated, his place in the pantheon only gets more assured, more deserved, in my opinion. He's a major writer, and this is his biggest, most complex, and, well, major work to be translated so far. (The man wrote over 40 books, so who knows what yet remains!).

Marai again proves himself a genius of humanity in Portraits. Like Proust, he understands exactly how people really think, how they really behave, and captures it all perfectly on paper. He's the kind of writer where every few pages you think (or exclaim), "Yes, that's exactly how life is!" Although Marai knows a narrative trick or two and knows how to craft page-turning plots, in his way, what really keeps you glued to the page is Marai's wisdom. It's a term that can mean many things, but this is "wisdom literature" in its finest and purest sense: the thoughts of an almost superhumanly wise individual. It takes a master to not only bring characters to life as completely as Marai does here, with his three very different protagonists, but to speak so convincingly in their voices.

If you enjoyed Embers or Marai's other books, give Portraits a try. There is so much more to be written about this incredible book.

Odd and the Frost Giants
Odd and the Frost Giants
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $9.62
138 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A major minor Gaiman work, April 16, 2011
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I was expecting Odd and the Frost Giants to be a quick, forgettable work from Neil Gaiman. Like some of his short stories, perhaps. Surely not like Sandman, his novels, or the serious experimental graphic novels like Mr. Punch.

But no, even though it's only 100-odd pages and a children's book, somehow Odd is unforgettable. While it's not quite a *major* Gaiman work, it's certainly a major minor one. It's surprisingly entertaining, telling the tale of a young man in Norway during the viking era and his encounters with the gods of Norse mythology. It's also surprisingly rich, not so much in narrative as message. Like the myths and legends of the middle ages and antiquity, Gaiman's book contains a number of subtle lessons and moral messages for its young intended audience that enrich the fairy-tale-like story.

Odd was written for something called World Book Day in the United Kindgom, where authors write books for free that are sold to kids for £1 each, the idea being to get them reading. Sounds like a good idea-- Odd and the Frost Giants pleased this reader, and I believe it would please any reader, regardless of age.

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness
Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness
by Neil Strauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.85
172 used & new from $0.05

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So much more than a compilation of interviews, March 15, 2011
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I was pleasantly surprised by Everyone Loves You When You're Dead (ELYWYD?). I was expecting a collection of Strauss' interviews over the years, assembled, like every other such book, in some kind of mundane order-- the interview with Madonna, then Gaga, then Bowie, etc.-- I was expecting to read the interviews I was interested in and skip the ones I wasn't.

Thankfully, ELYWYD is so much more than that. The book splices dozens of Strauss' interviews into a narrative so that, unlike most books of interviews, you actually want to read this one cover to cover. The narrative sometimes follows a theme (contrasting different rock stars' views on faith, struggles with addictions, their childhoods, battles with record companies, etc.), and other times explores a particular story (for instance why some members of Pink Floyd don't speak to one another and why Pete Townshend resisted re-forming The Who).

Like most of Strauss' books, this one's a page-turner. I read over 300 pages in one day. The book goes down so easy that it's easy to take for granted how *big* it is, in every sense. It's the condensation of apparently a couple decades worth of rock journalism, and assembling such a crazily entertaining narrative from what must have been thousands of hours of interview tapes must have been no easy task. But as entertaining and fun as the book is, it's also a deep and surprisingly illuminating exploration of fame, art, and ego. It's a major and important book on music, stardom, and, well, the times we live in.

There's a lot more to say, and I'm sure many other reviewers will jump in and say it. Anyone with a serious interest in music or pop culture in general will probably devour Strauss' ELYWYD.

The Essential H.P. Lovecraft Collection
The Essential H.P. Lovecraft Collection

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovecraft's works are public domain, February 17, 2011
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The majority (all?) of H.P. Lovecraft's stories are in the public domain and can be downloaded from numerous places on the Internet for free.

SO, only purchase one of these various Kindle "editions" of Lovecraft's works if paying a buck or two is easier and more worth your time than tracking down the stories online and loading them onto your Kindle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2012 9:00 PM PDT

Griffin Technology Aircurve Play for Iphone 4
Griffin Technology Aircurve Play for Iphone 4
Offered by Griffin Tech
Price: $8.00
7 used & new from $5.50

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars for the iPhone 4. Works great, January 8, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
1) THIS PRODUCT IS FOR THE IPHONE 4. I don't know what's so complicated about that. My iPhone 4 is sitting in it right now and it fits perfectly.

2) It works great. I wasn't expecting it to work as well as it did, but it amplifies the volume considerably, easily filling my bedroom with sound.

That's pretty much all there is to say. I think anyone would be pleased with the amplification from such a small, inexpensive device.

Carmina Burana
Carmina Burana
Price: $13.29
47 used & new from $4.26

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smooth, dramatic Carmina... if that's your cup of tea, November 27, 2010
This review is from: Carmina Burana (Audio CD)
How do you sing Carmina?

Every recording answers that question differently. Some, like the essential Ormandy, ground the chorus and soloists firmly in the traditions of medieval music, liturgical singing and chant. Most modern orchestras, however, eschew those medieval elements in favor of a Carmina performed with the same modern operatic sound that they apply to the rest of their repertoire. My personal favorite, by Christian Thielemann, is a consummately operatic and polished account.

Harding's new version is operatic and polished, too, but with a more dramatic approach than Thielemann's or other versions I've heard. The soloists bring an unprecedented delicacy and theatricality to their performances, teasing the dramatic possibilities out of every last syllable of the (Latin) lyrics. In their commitment to this dramatic approach, Harding and his singers also iron out the cacophonous notes in Orff's music, smoothing over passages that sound jarring and bizarre in other recordings.

The question is whether you like that.

Personally, I don't like my Carmina this smooth. What I love about Carmina is its mysterious mix of bawd and delicacy, its mélange of ugly and beautiful, high and low. How sometimes it sounds so modern and other times so weirdly ancient. By smoothing over the weirder and more cacophonous parts of the music (loud and proud in Ormandy and acknowledged in Thielemann), Harding shortens the the artistic bandwidth of the work, and that's my real problem with this recording.

That said, taken on its own terms it's a fine performance of Carmina Burana. Orchestra, chorus and soloists are all excellent, and Patricia Petibon's liquid metal soprano is one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. Obviously I have strong and opinionated views on Carmina, so listen yourself and make up your own mind. If nothing else, purchase Petibon's rendition of "In Trutina" from this recording.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 4, 2014 3:23 AM PDT

Yuichi Yokoyama: Travel
Yuichi Yokoyama: Travel
by Yuichi Yokoyama
Edition: Paperback
52 used & new from $10.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, dreamlike journey, November 11, 2010
Travel is a wordless graphic novel by Yuichi Yokoyama. The plot is extremely simple: three men get on a train and ride it.

What makes the book interesting is Yokoyama's dreamlike, surreal imagery and his inventive use of camera angles and perspective. A single page will portray something as mundane as a character reaching into his pocket for change and buying a train ticket, but the way Yokoyama draws it makes it a fascinating experience. His characters are reminiscent of Matisse and Picasso paintings, and in my 20 years of reading comics I've never seen a drawing style quite like it.

It's hard to describe Yokoyama's work; check out some of the sample pages in the customer images above. Suffice it to say that fans of extremely experimental, artistic comics will enjoy this work, something quite new and unique in the world of comics.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2013 9:04 AM PDT

Zodiac Lady
Zodiac Lady
Price: $11.99
48 used & new from $10.43

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forgotten disco GOLD, July 29, 2010
This review is from: Zodiac Lady (Audio CD)
It's hard to convey in a simple review what makes Zodiac Lady so stellar.

The six super-catchy songs were written by Giorgio Moroder, an Italian producer and songwriter who wrote or co-wrote dozens of disco hits and some of the most in-your-face songs of the 70s and 80s, including "Take My Breath Away," "Call Me" by Blondie, "Danger Zone," "Flashdance... What a Feeling" and many more.

Part of the album's appeal is certainly its mystique. It first became a hit in Europe in 1977, after which records ended up in US discos. I've read rumors that it was never commercially released in the US, but the brief liner notes state that Casablanca Records did, in fact, release it here. Before January 2010, it had never been available on CD, at least in the US, and there was barely any information about it on the Internet. It was one of those things that, for a long time, existed outside of even Internet memory.

Super catchy, super fun disco gold you haven't heard a thousand times already. A genuine lost classic, and the remastering sounds great.

Beethoven: Symphony No.9
Beethoven: Symphony No.9
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $12.87
52 used & new from $5.99

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great new Beethoven's Ninth, and stellar soloists, to boot, June 29, 2010
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I own many recordings of Beethoven's Ninth, but don't feel eminently qualified to write extensively about the merits and deficiencies of each-- I just don't have the musical knowledge and vocabulary.

That said, I'm an amateur in hopefully the best sense of Beethoven's Ninth and thought I'd share a few thoughts:

If you own more than a couple Beethoven's Ninths, definitely get this one. The best way I can put it is that Järvi's version sounds alternately big and small. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is a chamber orchestra, but even with an augmented roster, I believe that the string section and possibly others are smaller than most modern orchestras. This chorus here is also relatively small at only 41 chorus members. So it has a "smaller," less crowded, more intimate sound at times, but since the orchestra is so tight and the recording such high quality, you hear individual instruments more distinctly and they can sound mighty loud when they want to.

The male soloists are a minor revelation. I first heard Matthias Goerne on Hilary Hahn's recent Bach: Violin & Voice, and was greatly impressed. Here, Goerne brings an unprecedented warmth and tenderness to the "O Freunde" solo. He sounds like a lieder singer performing to an intimate audience, in marked contrast to baritones on other recordings who now sound like bellowing oxen in comparison. The tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt, similarly gives an uncommonly deft interpretation of the "Froh, Froh" part. A bit more theatrical than Goerne, Vogt evokes a clever Minnesinger, skipping along to Beethoven's "Turkish march" with folkish charm and humility. I first heard Christiane Oelze on the superb Christian Thielemann Carmina Burana, and although the soprano has fewer moments to shine than the men, she sounds fine here.

There is much more to say about this excellent recording and I hope that some expert reviewers will jump in and start saying it.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
by Anthony Bourdain
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.68
330 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bourdain's second best book, June 21, 2010
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Should you buy Medium Raw? There's a pretty simple checklist:

* If you haven't read Kitchen Confidential, NO. Start there.

* If you loved Kitchen Confidential and have tracked down more Bourdain, YES. There's more glimpses into the weird and wild restaurant world, and Tony shares some of his most personal writing yet.

* If you (for better or worse) identify as a "foodie", YES. You'll impress all your friends over Pinot and pork belly by regurgitating opinions and facts from Tony's chapters on rising star David Chang, Top Chef, Le Bernardin, and much more.

* If you watch No Reservations mainly for the travel, then MAYBE. There's not much straight-up travel writing in here.

Otherwise, you may want to pass or wait for the paperback. Medium Raw is as uneven as its title, and I could see a general reader who enjoyed Kitchen Confidential grow bored with some of the less essential chapters, including Tony's ruminations on "selling out," his (15-page!) ad-hominem attack against New York Magazine food critic Alan Richman (reminiscent of Guns n Roses' "Get in the Ring," in which Axl called out music critics by name), and a predictable invective on $40 cheeseburgers. But for fans of Bourdain-- and you know who you are-- Medium Raw is required reading. The few dud chapters aside, there's some essential writing in here. Anthony Bourdain's not only our best living writer on food, but one of our last real men of letters.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2010 7:14 AM PDT

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