Put this one at the top of your reading list!

Looking for some summer reading, viewing, and listening? Here’s some good stuff we never quite got around to reviewing this spring.


Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. World War II has just ended, but Spain remains firmly under the fascist thumb of Franco. A young boy becomes obsessed with a forgotten author whose novel he discovers in a Barcelona repository. Who was Julián Carax and why does the young boy’s every query invite the wrath of a mysterious stalker and a sadistic police chief. Glom a world class mystery onto a coming-of-age story, mix with Dan Brown-like labyrinthine plot twists, and season with skillful writing and the result is a delicious read.

José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature for Blindness in 1998, but we just got around to reading it. A strange bout of blindness plagues Lisbon in Saramago’s allegory of Portuguese fascism and spiritual darkness. It is a chilling but irresistible study of the struggle between civilization and humanity on one hand and A Darwinian survival of the fittest on the other. Do not see the movie made about the book. There’s no point to watching a lame film about blindness!

I enjoyed Saramago’s sequel, Seeing, even more. It intelligently tackles an age-old conundrum: How would a government react if the bulk of society simply decided to ignore it?

Ghost by Alan Lightman: Seeing is believing. Or is it? What if you’ve seen something but don’t know what it was? And what do you do when some people try to tell you what you’ve seen and still others tell you that you saw nothing at all? This very unconventional ghost story raises fascinating epistemological and eschatological puzzlers.

Joël Glenn Brenner, The Emperors of Chocolate. This book came out in 2000, but remains relevant. If you think the CIA has secrets, it’s a band of tattle-tales compared to the candy industry. Brenner, a former Washington Post writer, penetrates (to the degree she can) the corporate world of Hershey and Mars to arrive at a center substantially chewier than nougat and caramel.


Assorted snafus prevented me from seeing The Wrestler until recently but I can report that you shouldn’t take its hype any more seriously than you would a WWF bout. Mickey Rourke is pretty good as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a past-his-prime gladiator who has messed up his life in just about every way imaginable. It’s hard not to superimpose Rourke’s real-life bio onto this, but the film itself is a lot like pro wrestling—written to formula. You can see everything coming from a mile away. And will Hollywood please stop trying to convince me that Marisa Tomei is a real actress? With the exception of Matthew McConaughey there is no more over-hyped, under-talented actor in the biz.

If you want to see what real actors can do with a script that’s more play than film, rent Doubt. Meryl Streep is chilling as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman is her near-equal as Father Flynn, a priest with a secret that’s not the one that Sister thinks it is.

Hoffman is also superb in Synecdoche, the most intelligent film I’ve seen in years. If you need things clear, resolved, and obvious stay well clear of this one. But if your mind gravitates towards eternal questions about meaning, fate, and time check it out. We all like to think about how our lives would change if certain factors were altered. But what if it’s the interior that really matters?

We wanted to love Is Anybody There? but the film simply doesn’t compel. Michael Caine is fine as Clarence, an embittered, elderly ex-magician forced into a nursing facility, and Bill Milner is cute as a death-obsessed nine-year-old. The script, however, is paint by the numbers and dodges profundity in the name of affected sweetness.

Sugar, on the other hand, avoids the easy answers of Is Anybody There? Miguel “Sugar” Santos (Algenis Perez Santos) is star pitcher in the Dominican Republic whom scouts have been watching since he was fifteen. At nineteen he gets his chance to pursue baseball dreams. But how does a Spanish-speaking kid who grew up in crushing poverty cope with being assigned to a club in Iowa, where he has no support systems? This intelligent take on culture clash avoids nostrums.


Talik TA35

These Norwegian ringlenders, bag tunes, waltzes, and marches are old-style tunes that Gullikstad learned from now-deceased musicians in the copper-mining district of Røros some 200 miles north of Oslo. The album has the rawness and immediacy of source music—demanding listening, but a treasure trove of fiddle tunes for those tired of the tried and true.

Waltz With Me
Compass 7-4492-2

Norway’s Annbjørg Lien is like musical sandpaper, gritty and rough, yet contained and organized. Her Hardanger fiddle is tossed into an international mix with Bruce Molsky’s fiddle, Christine Hanson’s cello, and Mikael Marin’s viola and the result is what you might get if a classical quartet was deported to the boondocks. “Edgy smoothness” sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s an apt handle for this beguiling collaboration.

Five Play
Beautiful Jo Records 53

Toss what you think a ceilidh band sounds like; this English quintet features big accordion-driven sets and a full sound more akin to the orchestral spirit of Ceoltoiri Chualanin than a pub pickup session. Jazzy interludes, lacey-interweaving, meaty hooks, a sense of swing, and exuberance make this a memorable release that’s miles from ordinary.

A Song in her Heart
Greentrax 321

Mary Kathleen Burke was born in Ireland and lives in Scotland, and has played with country bands. This collection of folk favorites and originals has a nasality and sparseness that’s more Appalachia than Albion. There are fine renditions of songs from the public domain, Donovan, Eleanor McEvoy, and Iris DeMent, the latter to whom she invites comparisons.

1 comment:

gloria said...

Thanks for the tips,PB and LV. Never heard of Shadow of the Wind--but now will seek it out.