Sunday, April 30, 1995

Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You & The Actor's Nightmare

by Christopher Durang

"Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You": I'm hesitant to call it only my second reading, since I was in it at 12 and probably read it dozens of times, but for simplicity's sake I will.  Coming back to it after a decade, I see that this is a very brave play, poking fun at the long-standing traditions of some fairly humorless people.  It flings homosexuality, abortion and single mothers into the fray, almost as a sidebar to the main controversy, rape and cancer in a world which a good God is supposed to rule.  Of course, it is a comedy, and it's very funny too, although much less so after the appearance of Diane and the others.  Sister Mary shooting Diane is absurd, but not that comic (the shooting of Gary, on the other hand – "I've sent him to Heaven!" – manages to be funny).  This is one of the best black comedies ever, guaranteed to offend: the best kind. 

"The Actor's Nightmare": I found a lot more meaning to this play this time than my first reading (and viewing) at age 12.  I had thought of it as just a surreal, extremely funny play, which it is, but there's also the fact that George has deep guilt about not going to a monastery, which figures into his torment.  In addition to being a send-up of the trappings of the theater and actors' airs, it's a comment on the Catholic Church's use of guilt as a power tool.  Mainly, though, it was a great comedy.  I laughed out loud reading it.

[Read twice – actually, heard and performed in dozens of times]

Saturday, April 29, 1995

Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture

by Carol Padden

This book argues that Deaf people (capitalized in the original to show a community rather than to describe a condition) need to have and create their own culture; no argument here.  To illustrate their point, the authors show examples of Deaf folktales, shared Deaf experience in school and in hearing society, and so on.  I especially enjoyed the part about translating "Jabberwocky" into ASL.

One new thing I learned was that Deaf people do not live in total silence.  Sound, though not in the way hearing people use it with specific meaning, plays a large part in their lives.  The stories of Deaf kids roaring through the halls, banging walls and windows just to get a feel for sound and to use it in their games, brought out this point well.  This book was a good basic introduction on Deaf culture in America (although my girlfriend had told me a lot of the most basic stuff already, it was still quite interesting). 

three stars

Friday, April 21, 1995

Mr. Palomar

by Italo Calvino
translated by William Weaver

I tried to read this a couple of years before, and got through a considerable amount, but stopped. It's a quite hermetic, cryptic work. Anyway, I tried again and this time I plowed all the way through. A definitely different work, it's extremely well-written (and translated into a smooth, perfect English admirably by the great William Weaver), and a great intellectual exercise into questions on the relation of self to the mind, self to the world, language and symbols. The last chapter, on "learning to be dead," is particularly intriguing in this way. Palomar's thoughts are, now and then but not often, comic, often at his expense.

I think the book could have used more of this deprecatory angle for comic relief from trio after trio of analysis – to have more of a character development, since there is no plot. When Palomar dies at the end, it is funny, true, but should anyone care? If not, why did it happen? I suppose my main impression of the book is, in fact, like something Palomar would think: I didn't get that much out of it except respect for Calvino's writing skills, but – since it is the work of such a gifted writer and has garnered such praise – I feel I must be missing something.

four stars

Monday, April 17, 1995

Japanese Mythology

by Juliet Piggott

A brief summary of Japanese mythology. As with all Paul Hamlyn myth books, really fine examples of the art of the culture were included, which made the book. Most of it wasn't about the gods themselves or their histories, but either folktales concerning talking animals or ghosts, or very loosely historical tales of heroes.

Of the indigenous mythological creatures, I liked the kappa, who lose their strength when the water is spilled from the dents in their heads. I also like the idea of the mischievous tengu. Like the others I've read in the series, the book could have used some cohesion, more detail where interesting-sounding stories are only glossed over, and a little better organization. But it's a good reference book as a starter, and again, great pictures (Japanese art is so detailed and stylized!).

[read twice]

Tuesday, April 11, 1995

Troubled Sleep

by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Gerard Hopkins

(Translated from La Mort Dans L'Ame a somewhat different title.) This series was apparently supposed to continue beyond three books, and although I get the sense of transition in this book, there's also completion: Mathieu makes a final decision for freedom, Brunet finds out that the mindset he wants his fellows to share does not come about so easily. It is sad that we never find out what happens to Odette & Jacques, Daniel & Philippe, or Gomez, lost in America... However, the main focus of this book is Mathieu, representing the typical soldier who fights simply because, and Brunet, the party member who has a cause which is shared by few. The scene describing Mathieu's last stand was particularly moving, as was the death of the printer at the end of the book. A great series, all in all, that I am very sorry to see end before the end of the road is found for everyone.

four stars