Tag Archives: books

Some Like It Hot, Others Like It Bound and Paginated – Marilyn’s Book Collection

marilyn monroe reading eve arnold 1955

While drafting an essay for a famous 1955 photograph by Eve Arnold of Marilyn Monroe sitting in a children’s playground in her bathing suit reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (to read the essay, go here), I came across a wonderful list of all the books in Ms. Monroe’s book collection (http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/the-430-books-in-marilyn-monroes-library.html).  Many of the books were auctioned by Christie’s in 1999.  Those who knew her said that Monroe read books whenever she had a spare moment, and Arnold’s is not the only photograph of Marilyn reading.  The list contains quite a few intellectually challenging works, perhaps not surprising for someone once married to playwright and intellectual Arthur Miller, including Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, a history of the American Communist Party and works by Freud, Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza.  There are many plays and poetry collections and, of course, James Joyce (Dubliners and  Ulysses, but not Portrait of the Artist).  Some of the titles remind me of the scene in Annie Hall when Annie easily identifies the books Alvy gave her because “they all have ‘death’ in the title.”  Random titles on the list: Sexual Impotence in the Male, by Leonard Paul Wershub, Pet Turtles, The Little Engine that Could and Baby & Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock, a poignant inclusion given that Marilyn died childless at the age of 36.  Other poignant titles are The Failure of Success, by Esther Milner and How To Travel Incognito, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Overall, one gets the sense of a searching and curious mind. Here is the list, in alphabetical order by book title:

Marilyn Monroe’s Book Collection
100 Modern Poems, edited by Selden Rodman
A Book about Bees by Edwin Way Teale
A Cup of Tea for Mr. Thorgill by Storm Jameson
A Death in the Family by James Agee
A European Education by Romain Gary
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem by Milton Steinberg
A Piece of My Mind by Edmund Wilson
A Prison, A Paradise by Loran Hurnscot
A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Houseman
A Socialist’s Faith by Norman Thomas
A Stone, A Leaf, A Door: Poems by Thomas Wolfe
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen
A Train of Powder by Rebecca West
A View of The Nation – An Anthology: 55-59, edited by Henry Christian
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg
Act One by Moss Hart
Add a Dash of Pity by Peter Ustinov
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass & The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll
All The Naked Heroes by Alan Kapener
Almanach: Das 73 Jahr by S. Fischer Verlag
America The Invincible by Emmet John Hughes
American Rights: The Constitution in Action by Walter Gellhorn
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
An Anthology of American Negro Literature, edited by Sylvestre C. Watkins
An Mands Ansigt by Arthur Miller
And It Was Told of a Certain Potter by Walter C. Lanyon
Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones & The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill
Antigone by Jean Anouilh
Aragon: Poet of the French Resistance by Hannah Josephson & Malcolm Cowley
Baby & Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock
Background & Foreground – The New York Times Magazine: An Anthology, edited by Lester Markel
Bahai Prayers
Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Bedside Book of Famous Short Stories
Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J.W.N. Sullivan
Bell, Book and Candle by John Van Druten
Bernard Shaw & Mrs Patrick Campbell – Their Correspondence
Best American Plays: Third Series, 45-51
Best Plays of the Modern American Theatre by John Glassner
Best Russian Stories: An Anthology, edited by Thomas Seltzer
Blow Up a Storm by Garson Kanin
Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin
Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Camille by Alexander Dumas
Camino Real by Tennessee Williams
Captain Newman, M.D. by Leo Rosten
Catechism for Young Children
Christliches ergissmeinnicht by K. Ehmann
Cities of the Plain by Marcel Proust
Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Close to Colette by Maurice Goudeket
Codfish, Cats & Civilisation by Gary Webster
Collected Sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay (2 editions)
Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare by Bertrand Russell
Commonwealth vs. Sacco & Vanzetti by Robert P. Weeks
Conditioned Reflex Therapy by Andrew Salter
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Critics’ Choice by Jack Gaver
Dance to the Piper by Agnes DeMille
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius
Death in Venice & Seven Other Stories by Thomas Mann
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
D.H. Lawrence: A Basic Study of His Ideas by Mary Freeman
Doctor Pygmalion by Maxwell Maltz
Don’t Call Me by My Right Name & Other Stories by James Purdy
Dubliners by James Joyce
Elizabethan Plays by Hazelton Spencer
Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw – A Correspondence
Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence
Evergreen Review, Vol 2, No. 6
Everyman’s Search by Rebecca Beard
Famous European Plays, edited by Bennett Cerf and Van H. Cartmell
Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier
Fever in the Blood by William Pearson
First Degree by William Kunstler
Flower Arranging For Fun by Hazel Peckinpaugh Dunlop
Forever Young, Forever Healthy by Indra Devi
Fowlers End by Gerald Kersh
From Hiroshima to the Moon by Daniel Lang
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs. A by Richard Aldrich
Glory Reflected by Martin Freud
God Protect Me from My Friends by Gavin Maxwell
God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell
Golden Boy by Clifford Odets
Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It by Mae West
Goodnight Sweet Prince by Gene Fowler
Greek Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
Hawaii by James Michener
His Brother’s Keeper by Milton Gross (from Readers’ Digest)
Horizon, a Magazine of the Arts (Nov 1959, Jan. 1960, Mar. 1960)
How Stanislavsky Directs by Mikhail Gorchakov
How to Do It, or, the Art of Lively Entertaining by Elsa Maxwell
How to Talk At Gin by Ernie Kovacs
Hugo’s Pocket Dictionary: French-English and English-French
Hurricane Season by Ralph Winnett
Hypnotism Today by Leslie Lecron & Jean Bordeaux
I Knock at the Door by Sean O’Casey
I Married Adventure by Olso Johnson
In Defense of Harriet Shelley & Other Essays by Mark Twain
Independent People by Halldor Laxness
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Jean Dubuffet by Daniel Cordier
Jean of Lorraine by Maxwell Anderson
Jeremy Todd by Hamilton Maule
Jesus by Kahlil Gilbran
Jonathan by Russell O’Neill
Journey to the Beginning by Edgar Snow
Jungle Lore by Jim Corbett
Justine by Lawrence Durrell (2 editions)
Kingdom of the Rocks by Consuelo De Saint-Exupery
Landscaping Your Own Home by Alice Dustan
Last Essays by Thomas Mann
Let’s Make Love by Matthew Andrews
How to Travel Incognito by Ludwig Bemelmans
Letters of Sigmund Freud, edited by Ernest L. Freud
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lidice by Eleanor Wheeler
Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
London by Jacques Boussard
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (2 copies)
Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe
Love Poems & Love Letters for All The Year
Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (2 copies)
Malcolm by James Purdy
Man Against Himself by Karl A. Menninger
Man Alive by Daniel Colin Munro
Man’s Supreme Inheritance by Alexander F. Matthias
Man-Eaters of India by Jim Corbett
Marilyn Monroe by George Carpozi
Max by Pericle Luigi Giovannetti
Max Weber (art book)
Medea by Jeffers Robinson
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy
Men and Atoms by William Laurence
Men of Music by Wallace Brockaway and Herbert Weinstock
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year by Phyllis McGinley
Metaphysics by Aristotle
Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds, Ephraim Katz and Zwy Aldouby
Miracle in The Rain by Ben Hecht
Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Miss America by Daniel Stren
Modern American Dramas, edited by Harlan Hatcher
More by Corwin by Norman Corwin
Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud
Mr. Roberts by Joyce Cary
Mujer by Lina Rolan
Music for the Millions by David Ewen
My Antonia by Willa Cather
My India by Jim Corbett
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Nana by Emile Zola
Napoleon by Emil Ludwig
New York State Vacationlands
Night by Francis Pollini
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
Three Famous French Romances by Antoine Francois Prevost, Proper Merimee & Alphonse Daudet
Of Stars and Men by Harlow Shapley
Of the Nature of Things by Lucretius
Oh Careless Love by Maurice Zolotow
On Such a Night by Anthony Quayle
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck
Our Knowledge of the External World, by Bertrand Russell
Out of My Later Years by Albert Einstein
Outpost Nurseries (brochure)
Panorama: A New Review, edited by R.F. Tannenbaum
Paris Blues by Harold Flender
Part of a Long Story: Eugene O’Neill as a Young Man in Love by Agnes Boulton
Peace of Mind by Joshua Loth Liebman
Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson
Plays by Moliere
Plutarch’s Lives, Vols. 3-6, edited by William and John Langhorne
Poe: Complete Poems, edited by Richard Wilbur
Poems by John Tagliabue
Poems of Robert Burns, edited by Henry Meikle & William Beattie
Poems of W.B. Yeats
Poems, including Christ and Christmas by Mary Baker Eddy
Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca
Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol. 70, no. 6
Politics in The American Drama by Caspar Nannes
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas
Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, by Malcolm Lowry
Prayer Changes Things
Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud
Red Mirage by John O’Kearney
Red Roses for Me by Sean O’Casey
Rededication to Freedom by Benjamin Ginzburg (2 copies)
Redemption & Other Plays by Leo Tolstoy
Relax and Live by Joseph A. Kennedy
Renoir by Albert Skira
Report from Palermo by Danilo Dolci
Robert Frost’s Poems, edited by Louis Untermeyer
Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus, by C.O. Mawson & K.A. Whiting
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Russian Journey by William O. Douglas
Say You Never Saw Me by Arthur Nesbitt
Schubert by Ralph Bates
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
Selected Plays by Sean O’Casey
Selected Plays of George Bernard Shaw
Selected Poems by D.H. Lawrence
Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson
Selected Poems by Rafael Alberti
Selected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke
Selected Poetry by Robinson Jeffers
Selected Works by Alexander Pope
Sephath Emeth: Order of Prayers For The Wholes Year in Jewish and English
Set This House on Fire by William Styron
Sexual Impotence in the Male, by Leonard Paul Wershub
Short Novels of Colette
Short Story Masterpieces
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Six O’Clock Casual by Henry W. Cune
Six Plays of Clifford Odets
Smoke by Ivan Turgenev
Snobs by Russell Lynes
Some Characteristics of Today by Rudolph Steiner
Something to Live By by Dorothea S. Kopplin
Songs for Patricia by Norman Rosten
Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence (2 editions)
Sons of Men by Herschel Steinhardt
Spartacus by Howard Fast
Spoken French for Travellers and Tourists, by Charles Kany & Mathurin Dondo
Star Crossed by Margaret Tilden
Stoned Like A Statue: A Complete Survey of Drinking Cliches, Primitive, Classical & Modern by Howard Kandel & Don Safran
Strike for a Kingdom by Menna Gallie
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The 7th Cross by Anna Seghers
The Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavsky
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Album of the Cambridge Garrick Club
The Alienation of Modern Man by Fritz Pappenheim
The American Claimant & Other Stories & Sketches by Mark Twain
The American Puritans: Their Prose & Poetry, by Perry Miller
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
The Short Novels of Colette
The Best of All Worlds, or, What Voltaire Never Knew by Hans Jorgen Lembourn
The Bible
The Biography of Eleanora Duse, by William Weaver
The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt-Farmer
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Building by Peter Martin
The Call Girl by Harold Greenwald
The Captive by Marcel Proust
The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins
The Cat with 2 Faces by Gordon Young
The Collected Short Stories by Dorothy Parker
The Complete Plays of Henry James
The Contenders by John Wain
The Country Girl by Clifford Odets
The Dancing Bear by Edzard Schaper
The Day the Money Stopped by Brendan Gill
The Dead Sea Scrolls by Millar Burrows
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
The Devil’s Advocate by Morris L. West
The Rebel by Albert Camus
The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Starkey
The Failure of Success by Esther Milner
The Fall by Albert Camus
The Family of Man by Carl Sandburg
The Flower in Drama and Glamour by Stark Young
The Forest and the Sea by Marston Bates
The Form of Daily Prayers
The Gingko Tree by Sheelagh Burns
The Golden Bough by James G. Frazer
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Green Crow by Sean O’Casey
The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
The Guide by R.K. Narayan
The Havamal, edited by D.E. Martin Clarke
The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell
The Hero Maker by Akbar Del Piombo & Norman Rubington
The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text
The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Ignorant Armies by E.M. Halliday
The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang
The Jury Is Still Out by Irwin Davidson and Richard Gehman
The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Law by Roger Vailland
The Life and Times of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud by Ernest Jones
The Life of Michelangelo by John Addington
The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley
The Little Engine That Could by Piper Watty
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud
The Magic Christian by Terry Southern
The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol
The Magic Word L.I.D.G.T.T.F.T.A.T.I.M. by Robert Collier
The Mark of the Warrior by Paul Scott
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, by Joseph Campbell
The Medal & Other Stories by Luigi Pirandello
The Mermaids by Boros
The Miracles of Your Mind by Joseph Murphy
The Mountain Road by Theodore H. White
The New Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer-Becker
The Open Mind by J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Open Self by Charles Morris
The Passionate Playgoer by George Oppenheimer
The Penguin Book of English Verse, edited by John Hayward
The Philosophy of Plato
The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Irwin Edman
The Philosophy of Spinoza by Joseph Ratner
The Plays of Anton Chekhov
The Pocketbook of Modern Verse by Oscar Williams
The Poems and Fairy-Tales by Oscar Wilde
The Poems, Prose & Plays of Alexander Pushkin
The Poetical Works of John Milton, edited by H.C. Beeching
The Poetical Works of Robert Browning
The Poetical Works of Shelley
The Poetry & Prose of Heinrich Heine, edited by Frederich Ewen
The Portable Blake
The Portable Anton Chekhov
The Portable D.H. Lawrence
The Portable Dorothy Parker
The Portable Irish Reader
The Portable Poe
The Portable Walt Whitman
The Potting Shed by Graham Greene
The Power Within You by Claude M. Bristol
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (4 copies)
The Rains Came by Louis Broomfield
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
The Right of the People by William Douglas
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
The Roots of American Communism by Theodore Draper
The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises, by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Sawbwa and his Secretary by C.Y. Lee
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Secret Books of The Egyptian Gnostics, by Jean Doresse
The Shook-Up Generation by Harrison E. Salisbury
The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck
The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert
The Sound and the Fury & As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Story of a Novel by Thomas Wolfe
The Story of Esther Costello by Nicholas Montsarrat
The Study of History by Arnold Toynbee
The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Support of the Mysteries by Paul Breslow
The Sweeniad, by Myra Buttle
The Sweet Cheat Gone by Marcel Proust
The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, by Martin Buber
The Thinking Body by Mabel Elsworth Todd
The Thomas Mann Reader
The Tower and The Abyss by Erich Kahler
The Truth about the Munich Crisis by Viscount Maugham
The Twain Shall Meet by Christopher Rand
The Un-Americans by Alvah Bessie
The Unfinished Country by Max Lerner
The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
The Use of the Self by Alexander F. Matthias
The Vapor Trail by Ivan Lawrence Becker
The Wall Between by Anne Braden
The War Lover by John Hersey
The Wisdom of the Sands by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Wise Garden Encyclopedia, edited by E.L.D. Seymour (2 editions)
The Woman Who Was Poor by Leon Bloy
The Women by Clare Boothe
The Works of Rabelais
Theatre ’52 by John Chapman
Theory of Poetry and Fine Art by Aristotle
They Came to Cordura by Glendon Swarthout
Thirteen By Corwin, by Norman Corwin
This Demi-Paradise by Margaret Halsey
This Week’s Short Stories
Thomas Wolfe’s Letters to His Mother, edited by John Skally Terry
Three Circles of Light by Pietro Di Donato
Thurber Country by James Thurber
To The Actor by Michael Chekhov
To the One I Love Best by Ludwig Bemelmans
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Troubled Women by Lucy Freeman
Two Plays: Peace and Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Ulysses by James Joyce
Untitled & Other Radio Drams by Norman Corwin
Venetian Red by L.M. Pasinetti
VIP Tosses a Party, by Virgil Partch
Wake Up, Stupid by Mark Harris
What Is A Jew? by Morris Kertzer
Who Blowed Up the House & Other Ozark Folk Tales, edited by Randolph Vance
Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell
William Shakespeare: Sonnets, edited by Mary Jane Gorton
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
Wordsworth by Richard Wilbur
World Underworld by Andrew Varna
Yuan Mei: 18th Century Chinese Poet by Arthur Waley

The Best of 2014: Your Meta-Lists Have Arrived

When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.  Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.

Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.

Best Films of 2014
Best Books of 2014
Best Music of 2014

 

My Favorite Books and Films Read or Seen in 2013

BOOKS

The obsessive-compulsive folks (and their algorithms) at Goodreads.com tell me that I completed 24 books in 2013.  My stats page helpfully points out that the longest book I read this year was The Visual Arts: A History, by Hugh Honour, at 992 pages.  (Curiously, no ‘shortest book’ stat is provided.)  Most of the books I read this year come from two meta-lists I created: (1) Best Fiction Since 1900; and (2) Best Literature of All Time – Chronological.  Of the 24 books I read in 2013, I gave the following seven a five-star rating:

Great Dialogues of Plato (c. 400 BCE).  By Plato.  Translated by W.H.D. Rouse.
I’m cheating a little here – I only read the Apology, the Symposium and the Crito.  I read The Republic, too, but in a different translation (Grube).  But I did read several of the other dialogues in a philosophy course in 1979, if that helps any.  It is interesting to watch Plato go from Socrates’ chronicler to a philosopher with his own ideas (which he nevertheless continues to attribute to Socrates – an early example of branding?).

The Book of Disquiet (1935). By Fernando Pessoa.  Translated by Richard Zenith.
I read this book from my Best Literature list out of chronological order because of our April 2013 trip to Portugal.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Pessoa’s narrator (Bernardo Soares, one of his many avatars)  is an early existentialist (whole passages of Sartre’s Nausea appear to be cribbed from Disquiet) or perhaps undiagnosed depressive whose thoughts and emotions impart a dark-flavored energy onto everything in his exterior and interior world.  He seems to find comfort in describing the minute details of the view from his office window or the surface of his desk.  I can see why bookstores in the university towns of Portugal sell Pessoa t-shirts, even now, 75 years after his death.

Memoirs of Hadrian (1951).  By Marguerite Yourcenar.  Translated by Grace Frick.
A Roman emperor looks back on his life with a well-developed sense of himself and his opinions, a remarkable recall for names, places and events, and an uncanny ability to objectively assess both his strengths and weaknesses.  Hadrian was a real emperor and this narrative is steeped in the facts of his life and times as they have survived.  And yet while there is little (perhaps no) dialogue in Hadrian’s recitation, there is no question that it is a work of fiction and not history.  Changing from the third person to the first person is not merely a grammatical change – we hear a historical character speaking to us through time.

Molloy; Molone Dies; The Unnameable (1951-1953). By Samuel Beckett.
It may be some kind of aesthetic crime to try and describe Beckett’s trilogy in my lazy prose.  Each of Beckett’s sentences seems hewn in stone – it is impossible to imagine them any other way.  He is postmodern in the sense that he doesn’t believe you can read a novel without knowing that it is a fiction, created by an author, for a reader, and therefore all these concepts – “fact” “fiction” “character” “author” “reader” “novel” – are subject to change without notice.  Is the protagonist of all three novels the same character?  Is there a protagonist or character, in any previously-understood sense, in the third novel at all?  And, finally, how many stones does it have in its pocketses?  This is one of those rare books, like Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Gravity’s Rainbow, that I look forward to re-reading, and re-re-reading, and so on, for there seem to be endless depths to plumb.

A Death in the Family (1957). By James Agee.
With its shifting narrative perspectives, carefully-drawn scenes; and an ability to convey powerful emotions without manipulation or sentimentality, this story is at its heart a simple story about a boy and his father.

Invisible Cities (1972).  By Italo Calvino.  Translated by Willliam Weaver.
Marco Polo describes to Genghis Khan the amazing places he has seen on his travels.  One is more fantastic than the next.  Each description is a little prose poem.  Borges comes to mind.  But if the cities aren’t ‘real’, are they nevertheless real in some other sense?  And what do these conversations mean to Polo and Khan?

Conversations with Scorcese (Paperback edition, 2013). By Richard Schickel.
In the old days, directors denied that they had any agenda, any intellectual underpinnings or philosophical outlook.  John Ford and Howard Hawks would tell you they just want to tell a story – point the camera and turn it on.  Of course, these were deceptions, but while reading reviewer/documentarian Richard Schickel’s conversations with Martin Scorcese on life, the universe and Goodfellas. I wondered if there can be deception in a wall of words, a mask hidden behind the appearance of revealing secrets, telling all.  Here we learn details about Scorcese’s childhood and life as a director, as well as stories about each of his movies, and his thoughts on more technical aspects of moviemaking.  I raced through it and wished for more.

FILMS

I didn’t see any five-star movies in 2013 (excluding David Lean’s Great Expectations, which I’d seen before), but I did see quite a few movies that rated 4.5, which is often as good as it gets these days.

Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 1953)
San Soleil (Marker, 1983)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron, 1996)
The Piano Teacher (Haneke, 2001)
Ten (Kiarostomi, 2002)
Dogtooth (Lanthimos, 2009)
Marwencol (Malmberg, 2010)
Amour (Haneke, 2012)
Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012)
Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013)
Blue Jasmine (Allen, 2013)
Nebraska (Payne, 2013)

It’s the Most Wonderful Time – For Listers

The month of December is high season for listers and those who love lists.  Because December is the time that arts critics in every newspaper, magazine, website, blog, TV or radio station look back over the past year and make lists (usually Top Ten lists, but not always) of the best accomplishments from the past 12 months.  I’ve been collecting these lists – specifically for films, music and books – since 2002, and collating them to find out which items are on the most lists, and then making my own meta-lists.  Why do I do this?  One (somewhat inexplicable) reason is that I enjoy the process.  But a better reason is that I believe it exposes me to the best of these three arts.  Each list becomes a set of recommendations that I trust and that pushes me beyond my comfort zone.  I know that some folks don’t trust critics and reviewers to guide their choices of what to see, what to read and what to listen to, but to me the critics’ lists are the best option available, given that you can’t read/watch/listen to everything and must make choices.

What  are the other options for choosing what movies to see, books to read, music to listen to: (1) recommendations of friends and family; (2) following one particular expert, critic or reviewer; (3) critics’ reviews in newspapers, magazines and websites, or on radio or TV; (4) recommendations of people who sell movies or CDs or books, like Amazon; (5) trailers or other types of ads; (6) crowd-sourced websites like Goodreads or reviews on Amazon or other sites by ‘regular people’; or (7) meta-data sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes that collect critics’ reviews and assign ratings.  I have tried most of these methods myself, and I find that – except for (7), which is very similar to what I do – they all leave me disappointed.  I end up feeling like I have either adopted someone else’s tastes; sold out to The Man; ended up in a solipsistic spiral of stuff I know already, or that I’m just being exposed to the winners of various popularity contests judged by people completely unlike me who can’t spell and seem to base their opinions on completely irrational criteria.  So instead I rely on the critics and reviewers – people who analyze works of art for a living and may know more than I do about their subject.  While I may not agree with the tastes and judgment of each one, there is a pretty good chance that if several of them (or 10, 20 or 30 of them!) agree that a book is worth reading, a film is worth seeing, or an album is worth listening to, they are right.  Plus, when you pool the lists of many critics, you get a much wider variety than under most of the other available methods.  Taking this approach has led me to find masterpieces of artistic expression – from low to highbrow – that I would never have found had I just listened to what my friends’ recommended.  And while the critics’ top ten isn’t always my top ten, I have never regretted a choice I’ve made based on these lists.  (Even in the rare case that I don’t ‘like’ a highly rated book, recording or movie, I can appreciate the artistic qualities that led to its high rating and thus I benefit from it.  I just won’t be watching/reading/listening to it again any time soon.)

Here are the 2013 lists and Happy New Year:

Best Films of 2013
Best Books of 2013
Best Music of 2013

 

Too Big to Fail: The Best of 2008

A global financial crisis in the middle of a U.S. presidential election toppled financial institutions and triggered government bail-outs.  In the midst of it all, Americans elected their first African-American President, Barack Obama.  In other news, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan and the Olympics were held in Beijing.  Take a trip back to 2008 – the year that was too big to fail.  I’ve compiled lists of the best films, music and books of 2008, according to the critics and bloggers who make those “Best of the Year” lists every December.

Best Films of 2008
Best Books of 2008
Best Music of 2008

Not Averse to Verse – The Best Poetry Ever

I’ve compiled a new list – The Best Poetry of All Time – The Critics’ Picks.  It includes the best poems by dozens (hundreds?  I didn’t count) of poets, both named and anonymous.  I organized it by poet, chronologically by date of birth.  Because that seemed like the thing to do.

To give you a sampling of what’s in store when you peruse the list, I’ve created two mini-lists from it: Best Epic Poems and Best Lyric Poems.  The numbers in bold indicate how many of the original lists the poem was on.

BEST EPIC POEMS
Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000-1200 BCE) – Anonymous
The Iliad (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Odyssey (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Aeneid (29-19 BCE) – Virgil
Ramayana  (c. 500 BCE – 100 CE) – Valmiki (attrib.)
Mahabarata (c. 800 BCE – 300 CE) – Vyasa (attrib.)
The Book of Kings (Shanameh) (1010) – Ferdowsi
Beowulf (c. 700-1025) – Anonymous
The Divine Comedy  (1265-1321) – Dante Alighieri
The Canterbury Tales (1343-1400) – Geoffrey Chaucer
Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton

BEST LYRIC POEMS

10
The Tyger (1794) – William Blake

9
My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose (1794)Robert Burns
A Noiseless Patient Spider (1882) – Walt Whitman
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (1951) – Dylan Thomas

8
A Poison Tree (1794) – William Blake
Ozymandias (1818) – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Canti (1835) – Giacomo Leopardi
O Captain! My Captain! (1865) – Walt Whitman
Dover Beach (1867) – Matthew Arnold
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923) – Robert Frost

7
Holy Sonnet 10: “Death Be Not Proud” (1609) – John Donne
Jerusalem (1804-1810) – William Blake
The Raven (1845) – Edgar Allan Poe
When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer (1867) – Walt Whitman
I Hear America Singing
(1867) – Walt Whitman
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
The Road Not Taken (1916) – Robert Frost
The Waste Land (1922) – T.S. Eliot

6
Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud) (1807) – William Wordsworth
How Do I Love Thee? (1845) – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Jabberwocky (1871) – Lewis Carroll
The Listeners (1912) – Walter de la Mare
When You Are Old (1892) – William Butler Yeats
The Darkling Thrush (1901) – Thomas Hardy
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) – T.S. Eliot
Dulce et Decorum Est  (1917) – Wilfred Owen

5
Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 30 “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 65 “Since neither brass nor stone”  (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 73 “That Time of year thou mayst in me behold” (1609) – William Shakespeare
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785) – Robert Burns
The Garden Of Love (1794) – William Blake
The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (1798) –  Samuel Taylor Coleridge
She Walks In Beauty (1814) – Lord Byron
Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) – John Keats
Ode on Melancholy (1819) – John Keats
Ode to a Nightingale (1819) – John Keats
Two in the Campagna (1855) – Robert Browning
Remember (1862) – Christina Rossetti
Because I could not stop for death (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
Anthem For Doomed Youth (1917) – Wilfred Owen
The Bridge (1930) – Hart Crane
Lullaby (1940) – W.H. Auden
Death Fugue (1948) – Paul Celan
We Real Cool (1959) – Gwendolyn Brooks
Those Winter Sundays (1962) – Robert Hayden
Daddy (1962) – Sylvia Plath
The Cantos (1917-1969) – Ezra Pound

Since this original post, I have arranged the poetry list in chronological order: Best Poems of All Time – Chronological.

Authors and Auteurs: The Individual As Creative Force

There appears to be a human impulse to attribute a work of art to a single creator.  Maybe this is a consequence of the monotheistic religions that so many humans embrace (or perhaps monotheism is a result of the same human impulse).  We honor and celebrate the skill and imagination, the creative power of book authors, playwrights, poets, painters, sculptors, songwriters, musicians, and film directors.  The underlying theory, I suppose, is that it takes the creative vision of a single mind to produce a fully-realized work of art.  The most controversial application of this theory is the auteur theory developed by French film critics in the 1950s and championed in the U.S. by Andrew Sarris.  According to the theory, a film’s director is its author, in the same way that the single person who writes a book is its author.  The trouble with the theory is that movies are also a collaborative art – an enterprise involving the coordinated artistic and technical skills of many individuals in addition to the director, such as the screenwriter, the cinematographer, the editor, the sound crew, the set designer, costumers, as well as the actors.  The auteur critics used their theory to champion lesser-known directors like Samuel Fuller and Douglas Sirk by showing how they used the relative obscurity of genre and “B” movies to put forth a personal artistic vision.  But the theory works less well for many of the films produced by the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and 1940s, when the director may have been just another cog in the machine.  Gone With the Wind seems more a product of its producer, David O. Selznick’s vision, than than of its director, Victor Fleming.

Music can also be a collaborative art, especially in the ensembles of rock and jazz, where songwriting and performing are often spread among a number of talented individuals, working together but also taking opportunities to “solo” and improvise, temporarily elevating the individual above the ensemble.  Even classical music, in which the composer’s manuscript is usually sacred, conductors and musicians “interpret” the piece, bringing something of their own style and personality to the final performance.

Painting and sculpture, which are now seen as extremely individualistic, were not always so (and, for massive public art projects, are not so even now).  A painter or sculptor in the Renaissance, for example, had many assistants, who often executed some of the work. Painters were even known to charge higher rates depending on the percentage of the work they did themselves.  Furthermore, those clients commissioning paintings and sculptures often had very specific requirements about the content of the work.  The notion of a painter sitting down to a blank canvas and painting whatever he or she pleased is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Are book authors (and poets and playwrights), then, the only true auteurs?  In many cases, the author sits down, writes his or her book alone and then sees it published in substantially the same form.  But in other cases, this image ignores the reality of publishers and editors who influence not just the subject of books but the style.  (Thomas Wolfe is one famous example of a writer who delivered a mass of disorganized writing to his editor, who then whipped it into shape.  Yet the editor is not considered a co-author.)  There are also ‘authors’, like Homer and those to whom many ancient manuscripts are attributed, who are merely symbols for the centuries of oral tradition that led to the Iliad, the Odyssey and other works handed down over time.  And all artists are influenced by other artists – some steal directly, others unconsciously.  Some are rebels; some are reformers, and some wish to return to times gone by.  They are influenced by the market – what will sell, what will not.  The political climate affects them as well as their personal circumstances.

I have raised all these complications as a preface to introducing a number of new lists.  Actually, they are mostly reworkings of older lists (although a few of them dig deeper than the lists I’ve already published).  These new lists all have one thing in common: they are organized by artist (as in performer, author, director).  Some are alphabetical; some are chronological.  The main idea is to see the lists in a different way: through the lens of the individual creator and their body of work.  They are particularly useful in answering the question: “Which one should I try first?” (E.g., Which David Bowie  or Charles Mingus album?  Which Titian painting?  Which Dickens book?  Which Godard film?)  Or, for those who have dabbled already, “Which should I try next?”

Rock, pop, R&B, etc.:  Musicians and Their Best Albums
JazzJazz Artists and their Best Recordings
BooksGreat Authors and their Masterworks, Part 1: 850 BCE – 1870
BooksGreat Authors and their Masterworks, Part 2: 1871-Present
FilmFilm Directors and their Best Films
Visual Arts: Great Artists and Their Masterpieces 

The Best of 2009 & 2010

I have put links for all my meta-lists for the best of 2009 and 2010 in this post – each one is a compilation of numerous best film, best music and best books lists for each year.  Have a look:

BEST BOOKS OF 2009                      BEST BOOKS OF 2010
BEST FILMS OF 2009                        BEST FILMS OF 2010
BEST MUSIC OF 2009                       BEST MUSIC OF 2010

2012 – It Was A Very Good Year

Every December, like clockwork, film, book and music critics (and bloggers) publish their “Best of the Year” lists in newspapers, magazines and websites.  And since 2002, I’ve been collecting those lists and collating them to find out which books, movies and albums made it onto the most lists.  I’m going to publish all these lists eventually, but for now, I’ve put up the most recent ‘best of’ compilations, from 2012.  Take a look:

BEST FILMS OF 2012  
BEST BOOKS OF 2012
BEST MUSIC OF 2012