Litlets

March 7, 2011

Book Review: A Salute to Spanish Poetry, by John Howard Reid

Filed under: books,Poetry,Reviews — crcb @ 9:06 pm
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A Salute to Spanish Poetry: 100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America, rendered into English verse by John Howard Reid. Lulu, 2010.

Reid includes a large and diverse group of poets here — 57, if I count correctly. I got that figure by paging through the biographical section, which is called an “index,” but isn’t. There is no table of contents. The usual suspects appear — Jimenez, Lorca, Anonymous — but there are also some surprises, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

I don’t read Spanish, and in any case the Spanish originals aren’t included in this book, so I can’t address the linguistic accuracy of Reid’s translations, or compare the form of the translation with that of the original. The translations flow well enough, except when they’re interrupted by explanatory notes that should be moved to the foot of the page, as in Julio Herrera y Reissig’s “Home from the Fields.” Mostly, any one translation by itself seems fine, if a bit stereotypically “Spanish poetry.” Some are formally adventurous. But take them together, and they all sound as if they were written by the same person — probably beside a fountain at twilight, the air fragrant with blossoms and filled with the sounds of cicadas and plaintive guitars. Is there really that little difference, in the original, between the voices of Machado and Mistral?

The book includes black-and-white photos of cliched Spanish scenery which add little.

Note: I received this book free for review purposes, but received no other compensation for this review. Surprised?

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February 16, 2009

Software for Writers Review: Q10 – Updated

Update:

  • The QuickText function is now working for me. I don’t know what I was doing wrong before.
  • Only timed writing has an audio cue. Wordcount-targeted writing has only visual cues.
  • I haven’t tried the spellchecker again. That’s a feature I’m too cocky to use very often, anyway.

~~~~~~

Introduction

Q10, a free, full-screen text editor, is similar in concept to TextRoom, which I previously reviewed. TextRoom, I found, has its share of problems. Q10 has a few shortcomings, but it easily wins any comparison with TextRoom.

Q10 is available at http://www.baara.com/q10/. I installed the PortableApp version on a thumb drive, and that’s the version I’m using to write this review.

Pros

  • The status bar (at the bottom of the screen) shows a running wordcount total.
  • Q10 includes modes for targeted writing, either by wordcount or by time limit.
  • Q10 saves files in a plain text format, so they can be opened by any text editor.
  • The background color, foreground color and fonts for both the work area and the status bar are configureable. (I’ve set mine to a blue background with white text, for nostalgia’s sake.)
  • You can set the character encoding to UTF-8 or ANSI, and you can set the line-endings to match your platform: Windows, UNIX or Mac.
  • Paragraphs beginning with two dots (..) are considered notes, and do not figure in the word count.
  • Q10 includes a QuickText feature for commonly-used words and phrases (but see below).
  • Q10 includes a spellchecker (but see below).
  • Autocorrection is included and customizable.
  • Q10 has a small footprint.
  • It’s free!

Cons

  • Although it’s free, it’s not Open Source.
  • Q10 is available only for Windows.
  • The documentation consists of one pop-up window listing keyboard shortcuts.
  • If you want audio cues when you reach your writing target, you have to put up with a typewriter sound effect. It would be nice if that sound effect could be disabled separately.
  • I haven’t been able to get the QuickText feature to work.
  • Running the spellchecker crashed the application (but only when I asked it to “change all”).

Summary

Q10 has pretty much everything I was hoping for in this type of text editor. Its defects, for me, are in the nature of annoyances. If it lacks many features of such applications as NoteTab or Notepad++, that’s by design. What it’s meant to do, it does well, a bit of bugginess aside. I expect to use Q10 quite a lot.

August 18, 2008

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

Filed under: reading,Writing — crcb @ 2:11 pm
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Reading fiction by Ray Bradbury is a gamble. He’s created some beautiful stories, but you have to slog through a lot of mawk to find them. He’s a much better fiction writer than he is an essayist.

Zen in the Art of Writing consists of reprinted articles (and some awful poems) on the art and craft of writing. Bradbury provides good advice for beginners — write every day, read widely, have fun — but little of it is original, and even with repetitions (of which there are many), this advice accounts for only about a dozen pages. Much more space is devoted to mythologizing Bradbury’s childhood.

If you want to share Bradbury’s admiration of his ten-year-old self, this is the book for you. If you want insights into the fiction-maker’s art, look elsewhere.

January 6, 2008

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd

Filed under: Movies,Musicals,Reviews — crcb @ 5:47 pm
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Mood: tonsorial
 
I’ve been familiar with this musical for a long time. I’ve seen it on stage, I’ve heard the Broadway cast recording, and I’ve seen the Angela Lansbury/George Hearn version on video. I approached this movie with equal parts hope and fear; the hopes were mostly fulfilled, and the fears mostly groundless.
 
Director Tim Burton understands well the differences between stage and screen, and he adapted Stephen Sondheim’s musical wonderfully to a more intimate medium. Sondheim has expressed a preference for actors who can sing over singers who can act, and that’s what we get here. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter sing well enough (at least, if you already know the lyrics and can fill in the occasional inaudible word), but the acting is outstanding. The interpretations of the characters are both darker and more vulnerable than others I’ve seen: Sweeney is more obsessed, Mrs. Lovett scarier and more pathetic, Judge Turpin less conflicted and more self-aware. One small part is changed in a big way: Toby is no half-wit, but a streetwise, gin-loving urchin who hasn’t — until the end — lost his innocence.
 
I do have minor quibbles. The relationship between Todd and Mrs. Lovett is too distant for all of the lyrics to make sense, for instance, and Antony is a little too sweet and sensitive. But on the whole the movie works as (take your pick) a revenge fantasy, a dark comedy, or a modern Victorian melodrama.
 
It might be too early to call, but I nominate Sweeney Todd for the best movie of the 21st century.

December 11, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

Filed under: Movies,Poetry,Reviews — crcb @ 1:56 pm
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Mood: vulpine

I was probably twelve when I first read Beowulf. I most recently read it when Seamus Heaney’s translation came out. There was no way I was going to miss this movie.

Of course, I saw it in 3D. Every movie should be in 3D. It’s really the only way to view a movie. If the technology becomes widespread, however, let’s hope moviemakers get tired of the let’s-make-them-duck gimmicks.

The movie version turns the epic poem into a comic book. I don’t mean that pejoratively. There are some good comic book movies out there, and I don’t care what their original inspiration was. This one, however, is only decent.

First of all, I’m not a fan of the technology used. It’s an uneasy blend of live action and animation. I suppose the studio didn’t want to spend the special effects budget needed for live action, but in trying to make it photorealistic, they shut off many artistic options. (With live action, we could have had real naked shots of Angelina Jolie–but then, we would have seen the spot between Anthony Hopkins’s groin and thigh, too.)

Second, the gimmicks. I’ve mentioned one above, the “It’s coming at you!” trick. Even more annoying was the coy hide-and-seek with Beowulf’s genitals (he fought Grendel naked), which went on far too long.

Third, the story. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it. Let me just say, the book will not ruin the story for you. You can safely read it. Grendel’s mother’s motivations are inscrutable, even for a demon. But then, no one in the movie acts with any kind of psychological consistency. The characters are 3D in appearance only. The battle scenes could have been more enjoyable if the laws of physics had been given at least a bit part.

If you like science fiction/fantasy movies, you won’t waste your time or money with Beowulf. If you miss it, though, you should feel little regret.

September 11, 2006

More on Cousin Henry

Filed under: Uncategorized — crcb @ 8:38 pm
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Not only is Cousin Henry a comedy, it’s Old Comedy, as practiced by Aristophanes, among others.Old Comedy opens with the imposition of an arbitrary law or regulation that upsets the world of the story. In this case, Uncle Indefer’s insistence on leaving the property to his oldest male heir instead of his all-but-adopted niece results in an impoverished Isabel, a miserable Henry, angry tenants and an exodus of faithful servants. The resolution of Old Comedy is the repeal of the ridiculous rule and the return of society to its natural state. In Cousin Henry, the law is actually repealed before its effects begin to unfold. More unusual, I think, is the fact that a minor character (Apjohn the lawyer) is the agent of resolution.

I wonder whether Trollope was consciously following the Old Comedy formula. Quite possibly not. As literary critic Northrop Frye pointed out, literature tends to take a handful of archetypal forms. In any case, the plot here is merely a peg on which to hang a character study.

August 24, 2006

What I’m Reading: Cousin Henry, by Anthony Trollope

Filed under: Uncategorized — crcb @ 9:54 pm
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Cousin Henry is a more leisurely tale than could be published today. It takes a couple of chapters for the title character to show up. One paragraph contains, by my estimate, over 400 words, and it’s not the longest. The climax is followed by another two chapters of moralizing and tying up loose ends. These are not faults, merely indications that the story was written for a slower time than ours. Though it’s a short volume by Trollope’s standards, it’s a long read.

Despite the fact that the tale begins and ends with his cousin Isabel, it is Henry’s story. The middle belongs to him, and while they both suffer and change, his is the greater pain. Certainly we do not feel he is improved at the end; but we feel he can never again be the same.

The plot, briefly, is this. The childless Indefer Jones has adopted his niece, Isabel. He’s promised to leave her his estate, Llanfeare, when he dies. In his declining years, however, he becomes obsessed by the idea that estates should pass to the oldest male heir, and he makes a new will leaving everything except 4,000 pounds to Henry, Isabel’s cousin.

On his deathbed, Indefer repents and makes one last will, restoring the estate to Isabel. Everyone knows there’s another will, but nobody knows where it is. Nobody, that is, except Henry, who discovers it by accident in a book of sermons. He leaves it where it is, neither hiding further nor destroying it, but he tells nobody about it. He takes possession of the estate and Isabel returns to her family’s home.

That’s the bare skeleton of the action. The meat of the book is Henry’s tortured possession of his property. He cannot bring himself to destroy the will, but he lives in constant fear of its discovery. From this point, the novel is a character study of a man who has “just enough conscience to make him miserable,” someone who cannot commit either to virtue or crime.

If Cousin Henry vacillates, however, he comes by it honestly. Uncle Indefer is a great waffler, going back and forth on the inheritance. Isabel’s character, in contrast, is rigid, unbending and proud. Henry has Indefer’s indecision and Isabel’s pride; he lacks courage, charity, and more than anything moral strength. Nevertheless, he is not unsympathetic. He never really has a chance, because nobody will give him one. Everyone hates him on sight, before having any reason to do so, and everyone expects the worst from him. If Indefer or Isabel had once expected him to behave well, we feel he might have.

Though the other characters in the novel loathe him, we do not. Even when he’s at his weakest, at his pettiest, we can identify with him. Isabel is harder to warm up to. She wouldn’t be out of place in Northanger Abbey: she seems to be an Emily Bronte character as portrayed by Jane Austen. If anything, she’s more ridiculous than Henry, because her motives are less understandable. She’s less sympathetic, because she seems to need nothing, even when she’s reduced to poverty.

Henry is a whiner who continually feels he’s being wronged, but he has reasons. His uncle calls him away from his life and job in London with the promise of the estate, then takes it away from him. When Henry proposes marriage to Isabel (before the last will and Indefer’s death), which would let them share Llanfeare, she flatly tells him she despises him. Indefer’s lawyer, Apjohn, takes Henry on as a client, but only so he can act in the interests of Isabel.

In his indecision, Henry reminds me of Hamlet, but there’s one significant difference. Hamlet wavers because he doesn’t know what the moral course of action is. Henry knows what’s right and what’s wrong, but he doesn’t have the nerve to choose one or the other. We are more often weak than baffled in the moral sphere, and we can all identify with Henry.

Ultimately, Cousin Henry is a comedy, not only because of Isabel’s happy ending, but because Henry himself gets what he wants: to be rid of the estate and the heavy secret of his uncle’s last will. He escapes prosecution, keeps his London job, and even gets the four thousand pounds once meant for Isabel.

In its way, Cousin Henry is a very Shakespearian work. The plot is barely more credible than some of Shakespeare’s late plays, but the characterization is rich and deep. The point is not the action, but the players.

June 15, 2006

Google Shakespeare

Filed under: Uncategorized — crcb @ 10:39 am
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I have a love/hate relationship with Google, and my response to the "Explore Shakespeare with Google" site is no exception. As a bardolator, I'm always happy to see Master Shakespeare get more exposure, and I'm glad Google is sponsoring New York City's Shakespeare in the Park program. (Hint to Google: other cities have Shakespeare in the Park also. Even in the Midwest.)

If you want, you can read a complete play online (from a book scanned for the Google Books Library Project) or search plays for a particular word or phrase. Of course, there are links to other Google Shakespeare resources–or, more accurately, Google resources that can be used by Shakespeare students and enthusiasts, like Google Groups and Google Earth (for exploring the Globe Theatre, naturally).

But the shortcomings of Google Shakespeare are many and obvious. To mention just a few:

  • Maybe this is idiosyncratic, but on the web, I'd rather scroll than "turn pages."
  • Where are the sonnets and narrative poems? 
  • There are links galore to help you shell out money for Shakespeare's works, but I don't see any links to freely available online versions like those at Project Gutenberg. (After all, it's not like the profits go to the author.)

I was excited when I read the news about Google Shakespeare, but half an hour's exploration leaves me with no desire to visit the site again. "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." (Exit, pursued by a bear.)

[Note: this entry is being crossposted to my Random Modulation blog.]

May 19, 2006

What I’m Listening To: DJ Sweeney, by DJ Sweeney

Filed under: Uncategorized — crcb @ 11:25 am
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(Full disclosure: DJ Sweeney used to be my next-door neighbor, and her mother is a close friend of mine.)

DJ's jazz/swing/blues vocals are backed with some of the best instrumental talent Kansas City can offer. All the songs are classics, but for the most part not standards. I was familiar with only two, Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and the Rogers & Hammerstein hit, "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." The other tunes deserve to be better known.

For a self-titled album (though I understand that was unplanned), DJ Sweeney is refreshingly free of ego. DJ sings cleanly, with precision and feeling. Her performance is unencumbered by flash, flourishes, and superfluous ornamentation. She doesn't stand between the song and the audience, and she has the tact to give her talented instrumentalists time for wonderful solos. My only complaint is that the album is too short. I wasn't ready for it to be over.

You can find DJ Sweeney at www.cdbaby.com/cd/djsweeney

May 16, 2006

What I’m Reading: Me Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — crcb @ 4:19 pm
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Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith.
One of my favorite modern writers. Humorous and serious at once, she often reminds me of Emily Dickinson. This book includes reviews, essays, poetry, correspondence, and of course her whimsical drawings. My favorite of the essays is "Some Impediments to Christian Committment," which expresses her highly moral agnosticism and includes such vigorous poems as "Was He Married?" She has at least one fansite on the web, at http://www.steviesmith.org.

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