- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (August 11, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061456446
- ISBN-13: 978-0061456442
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How Beautiful It Is And How Easily It Can Be Broken: Essays Paperback – August 11, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this elegant collection of essays mostly from the New York Review of Books, NBCC award–winning author Mendelsohn reveals intellectual breadth in his ability to draw on his training as a classicist to look at contemporary culture, from movies like Kill Bill to Broadway musicals like The Producers, and the novels Middlesex and Everyman. They are springboards for Mendelsohn's agile mind to examine subjects like gender, homosexuality, war and peace. In Victims on Broadway I he eloquently peels back layer after layer of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and criticizes not only the 2005 Broadway production as stripped of the nuances of character and sensibility but also the audience for what he sees as their inability to perceive pathos. In a magisterial essay, Mendelsohn finds the same flaw in the blockbuster movie Troy that he believes marred the ancient, lost Greek epics the Cypria and the Little Iliad: unlike Homer's Iliad, they have not a single unifying action, but a single unifying notion lacking in epic grandeur. These essays richly repay the time readers spend in their company. (Aug. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“An elegant collection of essays. . . . Mendelsohn reveals intellectual breadth in his ability to draw on his training as a classicist to look at contemporary culture. . . . These essays richly repay the time readers spend in their company.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Brilliant. . . . Masterful. . . . Wise, funny. . . . A wonderful collection.” (Time Out New York)
“Mendelsohn takes on contemporary culture with humor and incisive analysis.” (The New York Sun)
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Top customer reviews
In his introduction, Mendelsohn explains the criteria by which he judges -
(1) Meaningful coherence of form and content;
(2) Precise employment of detail to support (1);
(3) Vigor and clarity of expression; and
(4) Seriousness of purpose (p. xv)
Quite independent of Mendelsohn, I'm happy (and perhaps a bit smug) to say my own judgments have come around to these selfsame points, even regarding the "brain candy" I may read when the "big issues" get tiresome. I find it nearly impossible to read a book anymore (or watch a movie for that matter)where the author can't write, doesn't take her job seriously, or both - even when it's "just" book #347 in Space Bimbos of the Black Sun series.
Oh, but we live in a "dark age" of culture where far too often we eschew wrestling with real tragedy for sentimentalism; melodrama; and feel-good, Lifetime movie endings. This is a common theme in many of the essays found here, from the first essay on Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones through stagings of Tennessee Williams and Euripides, reviews of Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar, to Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. (Regarding the latter, Mendelsohn compares Stone's film to Aeschylus' The Persians, and makes the point that, even writing of a glorious Hellenic triumph (Marathon & Salamis), the Greek playwright chose to portray the reactions of the Persians, asking his Athenian audience "to think radically, to imagine something outside of their own experience, to situate the feelings they were having just then...in a vaster frame" (p. 452), whereas Stone's "pretty much exclusive emphasis thus far on the `good'...in these entertainments is noteworthy, because it reminds you of the unwillingness to grapple with and acknowledge the larger issues...which has characterized much of the natural response to this pivotal trauma (9/11)." (p. 451))
Mendelsohn has inspired me to try opera - a genre for which I have little liking. I don't know why. I understand neither Italian nor French but it's not like I object to subtitles - I love Hong Kong martial arts flicks. And I dated a woman who adored opera and enthralled me with her enthusiastic descriptions of the medium. Whatever the case, the author's analysis of the Met's recent staging of Lucia di Lammermoor "forced" me to check out a DVD of Joan Sutherland's version from the library, and as I write this review, listen to a CD of Ion Marin's version with Cheryl Studer and Placido Domingo. Who knows where this could lead?
And, having read Mendelsohn's reviews of Troy and Alexander - the recent "epics" based on The Iliad and the life of Alexander the Great - I was again compelled. In this case to add them to my Netflix queue if only to see how badly they failed to capture their subjects. (Mendelsohn includes his review of 300 here as well but there are limits. The trailers were stomach churning enough.)
Lastly, I'm rereading Euripides' Medea in light of Mendelsohn's review of Deborah Warner's "vulgar, loud, and uncomprehending" (p. 418) Broadway staging of the play.
At the risk of spoiling your ability to enjoy guilty pleasures like Stephanie Meyer, I strongly recommend this book to one and all.
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To my surprise I recently picked up a book of critical essays and started reading them.Read more