The Joy of Jane

A few years (late 1990's) back my sister and I (roommates at the time) watched Sense and Sensibility on almost a daily basis. The Emma Thompson version. That was before I bought the DVD of Pride and Prejudice, which became a yearly viewing occasion. And we saw Persuasion on PBS. And Gweneth's Emma.

Last year PBS showed a more recent version of Sense and Sensibility. And Persuasion. Never mind the movie version of Pride and Prejudice. There was also a version of Mansfield Park, but I missed it. As I had in novel form.

In fact, I'd missed a lot of Jane in novel form. I'd read P&P in high school, but not since. I'd read Persuasion in grad school, and then again just for the joy of it. I'd long considered Persuasion my favorite of her novels, but who was I to say? I hadn't read the rest, just seen them on TV. Which, lovely as some of the adaptations are (and I will write a blog about that at some point), isn't the same.

So a few friends and I decided to make this the year of Jane. We are reading all of her novels. In the order she wrote them (not the order they were published.) We met last weekend, and talked about Northanger Abbey. Not her best, but not Jane's best is still pretty good. And as a writer, reading her first work was really interesting.

PBS has been kind enough to schedule five weeks of Jane Austen movies (3 of Emma, Northanger Abbey and replay of last year's Persuasion). And the book project will continue as well. Reports on both will be forthcoming.

GATZ at the ART

When I heard about Gatz, I will admit I was concerned. The complete text of The Great Gatsby read aloud over two performances, Chapters 1-5 and 6-9. Six hours total. My memories of The Great Gatsby were distant (high school, almost 30 years ago) and tainted by the class assignments I remembered, like writing down all the color instances and what they meant. The colors in Gatsby are interesting, and thesis worthy, but when the main thing you remember is the green light and Myrtle's yellow dress it takes a little of the joy out of the work.

Nonetheless, I was committed (as a subscriber), I decided to make it a day long affair, starting at 3pm on a Saturday. I wore comfortable clothes, brought a shawl. I reread the book in the days before, and went in with an open mind.

A note about the book–it has made me consider rereading all high school reading lists. What a stunning book. Such beautiful prose. More Fitzgerald is on my TBR (to be read) list.

The play opens in a run down office, where our narrator can't turn his computer on, so he picks up a copy of The Great Gatsby and starts reading aloud. There isn't any other dialogue than that in the book. So the office workings keep happening around the narrator, but the context of who is who, and what they are doing is implied rather than stated. For the first half hour of the show, I was thinking "I don't know if I can do this". It sounded like an audio book. Then, suddenly, the janitor says one of Tom's lines, and we're off.

And it works. The reality of the office and Gatsby's world collide, but don't superimpose themselves. In other words, the janitor stays the janitor, but he is also Tom Buchanan. Nothing happens outside of the set of the office, but everything that happens in The Great Gatsby happens on stage including the big party scene, the car accident and the funeral.

An amazing, exhausting day at the ART. And Elevator Repair Service, and especially Scott Shephard, have a new fan.

Cozy Series

After a reading dearth toward the end of last year, I picked
up the pace throughout the holidays and into the new year. And so I visited a
few well known characters, at least to me. Did I reread classics? No. I read
the latest in a couple of mystery series. These series fall into the category
of “cozy”, which mean no gratuitous sex. The violence of the murder at the
center of the book tends to happen offstage. Typically there is a cast of
characters, and back stories, that span one book to another. I love reading
these books, and I write in that genre (though I am as yet unpublished). I
think that the term cozy gets a bad rap, with people expecting cats, recipes
and knitting. OK, a lot of the series I follow have those elements, but they
are also good stories with wonderful characters.

Rather than talking about books I don’t like, I will focus
on series I do like. In other words, the books I pre-order from Amazon (if they
are in paperback, I think twice about hardback books, but that’s another blog
entry.) The books I am talking about today are fairly recent series, each with at
least two books and new ones due soon.

The Booktown Series by Lorna Barrett. Book 3 (Bookplate
Special
) just came out. The series takes place in a small New
Hampshire town where bookstores of various types are
the prime source of industry. The protagonist (Tricia Miles) is a divorcee who
owns a mystery bookstore. Great cast of characters, interesting plots (that have a little bit of an edge). Plus, who wouldn't want to live in a book town?

The Orchard Mystery Series by Sheila Connolly. Book 3 is due
in March. Meg Corey moves to a small town and begins rehabbing an old family
house while figuring out how to manage the orchard that goes with it. There is a subtext of romance (always nice), and Meg is a gutsy, interesting character.

The Domestic Diva Series by Krista Davis. A divorced
domestic diva solves crimes while trying to maintain what is expected of her
(fabulous food, elegant dining, etc). Book 3 is coming out in February. Sophie Winston has Martha tendencies with the verve of a 40's heroine.

The Charlie McNally series by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Book 4 is
due out in February. Charlie is a reporter trying to balance her career, crime solving and a lovelife. These books have thriller plots that twist and turn.

All four of these series are engaging, quick and interesting
reads. A perfect anecdote, in my humble opinion, to a gray winter day.

A Little Night Music

I have always wanted to see Angela Lansbury on stage.
Considering I have missed seeing her in Deuce (with Marian Seldes) and Blithe
Spirit
recently, I knew that A Little Night Music might be my last
chance. Add that to a Sondheim show, and how could I not make the trip?

Considering how close NYC is, I am embarrassed by how seldom
I get there. Really embarrassed. I decided to take the Bolt bus, which is
inexpensive ($17 each way). Aside from the front door swinging open on the ride
down (I kid you not, the poor driver had to find a piece of rope and tie it
shut) the trip was uneventful.

I have seen a couple of productions of A Little Night
Music
before, and wasn't as big a fan as so many others I knew. Maybe he ennui of the piece didn’t register,
but it did this time. “My happiest mistake, the ache of my life. . .” Who, at
midlife, doesn’t understand the lure of a crazy decision, and dread the
consequences? Fredrik, played by Alexander Hanson, is a bit of a cad. But since
the actor has that thing—you know the thing, that essence that spells troube and makes you
forgive all—his performance is charming. Actually, dreamy is the word.

Much has been said about the scaled down orchestrations for
this production—a spare 8 pieces. I can see it, but since the entire production
transported me, I didn’t mind. The set was interesting, costumes were stunning.
The lights were, at times, a little dark.

And Angela Lansbury. Well this longtime fan was not
disappointed. Her character is pushed around in a wheelchair, and I was
concerned that she was more feeble than the media had let on. Then came the
curtain call, where she bolted up and sprang to the front of the stage. An
inspiration about living with passion.

A Little Night Music was my first show of 2010. A lovely way
to start a new decade.

How I Think

I renamed my blog. Again. I spend a lot of time considering the “art” in my life. Theatre.
Books. TV. Movies. Project Runway. The quest for comfortable yet stylish shoes.
Good food. Beautiful design. The search for the perfect purse.  I am not a critic, though I have opinions and
I share them. Instead of having conversations with my small circle (or myself)
I have decided to blog about things that contribute to what I consider the
art in my life. You may or may not agree about whether something qualifies, but
that’s fine. And sort of the point.

Art feeds passion and passion feeds our soul. “Like” or
“hate” aren’t relevant. So acknowledging something that contributes to the
texture of my life is a noble pursuit. I realize that this may sound
pretentious, but I try to keep a sense of humor about my thoughts, and my life.

It may work or not work, but I hope that all will be worth consideration.
I am relentlessly optimistic, and I admire passion above all else. I have high
hopes for this year, and this blog.

To Kindle or Wait? That is the question…

Throughout December I had cause to haul home several hundred pages of text most nights. Student's papers. Plays. Articles. One day it occurred to me that a eReader would help. Till then I hadn't really seen the point, because of the limitations. Not being able to share books with others. The cost of the reader itself. But when I realized that I could put PDFs on an eReader, the wheels began to turn. And then when I wanted a specific title that wasn't at the bookstore, they turned some more.

I love technology, but usually wait until the bugs have been worked out. I read the rumors of an Apple eReader, and hope that they are true. But then…version 1. The waiting list. The bugs. The initial cost.

And then there's the Kindle. Version 2. Amazon. The size. The number of books it holds. The free Jane Austen books. (Another New Year's resolution, reading all the Austen books. Will be posting more about that.) I am planning a long trip in March, and would love to have a lot of books to chose from without the suitcase room being taken up. Is that enough to justify it?

The fact that I am even writing this down tells me I am wavering. Any thoughts?

Happy New Year

Happy 2010! Twenty-Ten, or so I've been corrected. We missed the "aughts" of the last century, and got in the habit of two thousand and year. Twenty Ten is a little easier. And I am thrilled about the turn into a new decade. Feels fresh.

My blogging here has been random, but it is the time for resolutions, so here is mine. I am going to be better about putting my stuff up there. My stuff being my thoughts on what I've been reading, what I have seen (theatre, movies, TV) and what I think. Likely I will be mostly positive, but when I have thoughts, and I do, I will voice them. After all, this is the point of a blog.

And I am going to focus more on the "art" part of my life for this reason–I need to give voice to the importance of books, live theater, film and some TV in my life. In our world, and with this economy, art is seen by some as superfluous. And next to food and shelter, it is hard to justify the expense (on all levels). Except. Except that art feeds the soul. And nourishes a society. And gives life a depth of color and clarity that makes it worth living. And that is important.

I am post post modern. I get the joke, but also am tired of the irony.
I long for authentic experiences, whether they are on the page, on the
stage, in the museum, or on the screen (large or small).

Lest you think that I am a culture snob, let me assure you, my tastes vary. Greatly. I love Jane Austen. But I adore mysteries. Particularly cozies and traditional mysteries. I love big, bold musicals. But I also love edgy theatre companies. And rethinking classics.

Concern about "who cares?" is gone. I care, and I blog. You may not, but I still hope you come back and visit.

Happy 2010, dear reader. Lets chat.