Monday, September 04, 2006

Recommendations and Announcements


  • "The Pain and the Itch" by Bruce Norris is the best new play I've seen this year -- and possibly these several years, it's that good. As the action opens, an upper-middle-class white couple, Kelly and Clay, try to explain their disastrous Thanksgiving dinner to a visiting Pakistani man. Besides the usual Thanksgiving family tensions (a marriage on the verge of implosion; the overindulgent grandma; Clay's caustic, successful brother; the brother's immigrant girlfriend), they've discovered a mysterious bite in a whole avocado, and their treasured four-year-old daughter Kayla has developed an ominous rash. What are the causes of these two mysteries, and what does the Pakistani man have to do with the story? The answers are painful, surprising, and bitterly funny, and the action and dialogue sharp and well-observed -- Jane Austen in BoBoLand. I especially admired the thematic and linguistic construction of the play; listen for the use of the word "listen," and then watch who actually does it. At Playwrights Horizons through October 8.
  • A great new culture blog: Listen Read Watch, by a writer named Linda Holmes. I discovered Linda's writing many years ago when she wrote an Internet column called "Ms. Linda's Is-It-Worth-It Movie Reviews"; she has a judicious eye and a lively, funny voice, and she loves well-done romantic comedies as much as I do (a rare feature in movie reviewers, who tend to 1) be male and 2) take the genre for granted). She's now writing about TV, books and music as well as movies; very much worth checking out.
  • Songs of the moment (well, they all came out a couple years ago, but they're now in my moment): "Happiness Writes White" by Harvey Danger (recommended by Ms. Linda; complete album available for free legal download here); "I'll Miss You Till I Meet You" by Dar Williams; and "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West. The first is a wonderful song about being happy in love ("I tried to put it into words, but the words just sound like mistakes/I tried to find a set of chords, but you know how long that takes me"); the second is a sweetly melancholy song about waiting for that to happen; and the third is a perfect running song, entertaining, thought-provoking, and beat-heavy in equal measure.
  • I mentioned both these books in passing, but they bear rementioning: I LOVED The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton. I also admired (but didn't quite love) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.
  • Currently reading: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry; The Sound on the Page by Ben Yagoda; The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis. For those of you just tuning in now, I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia for the first time this year, starting with The Lion, the Witch book and movie in January and moving slowly through the rest of the series (slowly because I read the books only at bedtime, and then I have to be in the right mood to read them and not something else). It took me several months to finish The Voyage of the Dawn Treader because I found Eustace so repugnant at the beginning -- or more accurately, because I felt personally attacked by Lewis because Eustace was so repugnant at the beginning: His parents are liberal vegetarian pacifists, and Lewis holds these values up as the implicit cause of all of Eustace's selfish, spoiled behavior. Once they got out into the islands, and particularly once Eustace had his dragon misadventure, I found it much more bearable, and the expedition to the World's End was beautifully imagined and thrilling. Still, I have to say, I'm looking forward to being done with Narnia.


  • For those who live in the 11th Congressional District of Brooklyn -- that is, those who have been getting endless flyers from Carl Andrews, Chris Owens, David Yassky, and Yvette Clarke -- there will be a Congressional Candidate Forum where we can actually hear from all these people on Wednesday, September 6, at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Elohim at 8th Ave. and Garfield Place in Park Slope.
  • If you would like to sponsor or participate in the NYC Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure next Sunday, there's still time for either action; see this link for details.
  • The New Yorker Festival schedule is out, and oh, man, I'm missing Jon Stewart, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, and two appearances by my sweet Anthony! Sigh. (Thanks to J. for the news.)
  • Want to procrastinate by reading yet more blogs about children's literature? Fairrosa has a very useful list.
  • I'm organizing a children's literature book group at my church in Brooklyn. The blurb for our first meeting runs as follows:
RELIGION AND CHILDREN'S BOOKS: Reading and Conversation
Modern novels for children and young adults often wrestle with religious and ethical questions in beautifully distilled, remarkably complex forms. We will read one short novel a month as a starting point for our conversations. Possible texts include: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, and A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant. We will gather on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m.; please read Lois Lowry's The Giver for the first meeting on September 24. Readers of all ages are welcome.

I know I (and I'm sure the church) would welcome anyone who would like to attend; leave a comment if you'd like further details.

  • Finally, John Mayer: I'm disappointed in you. You had the opportunity to date a blonde of taste and discretion, and who do you go with instead? A second-rate pop tart who can't tell the difference between chicken and fish. "Bah!" I say to you. "Bah!" And Simpson: You're on notice.


  1. IMO the problem with Eustace, and his parents, is not that they are liberal vegetarian pacifists (and teetotalers, and have a somewhat bizarrely egalitarian view of parenting, and wear "a special kind of underclothes" -- all of which said "these people are crackpots" to me as a child, but never once did it occur to me to think that Lewis was trying to make a blanket statement about liberals, vegetarian or otherwise). The problem with the Scrubb family is ultimately the same as the problem with the Dursleys -- they're self-righteous, smug, supercilious, and utterly unsympathetic toward anyone who doesn't live by their particular set of standards and expectations.

    Still, I know I can't talk you or anyone into loving Narnia the way I always have and always will, and I can't stop you from seeing nasty and off-putting things in the books even if I never saw those things there myself (and still can't, to be honest, even if I squint). All I will say is that Eustace is one of my favorite characters, and that The Silver Chair is one of my favorite books, and I wish I could bottle up the way I feel about Narnia and give a drop, like Lucy's cordial, to everyone who doesn't enjoy the books, but alas that will never be.

  2. Cheryl, I work in the marketing department for Playwrights Horizons! Glad you loved the play! If you're interested in going to move shows at Playwrights this year, give me a call at 212-564-1235 ext. 3209. We have a great "under 30" pass. $20 a ticket! Call and ask for Christy. I'll hook you up!

  3. For the record, I have been dating the only first rate PopTart for decades now.

    Oh, Ms. Brown Sugar Cinnamon Frosted, how do I love thee?

  4. Cheryl,
    I'm not sure if you've heard of this or not, and it's unrelated...but here's a cool project going on in NYC.

  5. I love the idea of a Religion and Children's Books discussion group. I'm anxious to hear how it goes and what books generate the best discussions. Have you thought of adding Godless to the list?