Monday, October 5, 2015

Rounding out the weekend

The concert at Tafelmusik was quite fun.  They were focusing on somewhat unconventional pieces, such as a suite by Telemann where the time signatures were unusual.  They stripped down to a smaller ensemble for Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 so that you could really hear the recorders. (I had been a bit disappointed by my ticket but actually it was fine and I could see the violinists making eye contact with each other.)  Being able to hear this type of concert is really a clear example of why I moved here.  Chicago would have the edge in terms of large symphonic productions, but Toronto certainly holds its own or even edges Chicago in terms of smaller chamber music concerts.  In fact there is an interesting concert by the Trio Jade this Friday, though I may pass, already having been away quite a bit these past two weeks.

I also had enough time to go by BMV and they bought almost all the books and CDs I had with me.  And this time I didn't buy anything on the way out.

Then after the concert, I stopped by Robarts and picked up a few books, mostly plays, including one by George F. Walker that has apparently never been republished.  Still, an awful lot of his work is print, particularly for a playwright.

The kids didn't have much homework left, but I spent a bit of time quizzing my daughter on French words.  I finally managed to get her tablet charged up again. (It seems to already have a loose connection to the power supply; I probably would be better off just returning it for a replacement, but I guess we'll hold off another couple of weeks to see what happens.)

Perhaps the most uncharacteristic thing I did was to get the sewing machine together.  It took a while, and I think I clearly need to experiment more with thread tension.  I may actually reload the bobbin underneath, since it seems to be sticking just a bit.  Still, I think by next weekend, I may be able to tackle these curtains (of course, on the weekend proper, I expect to be in Ottawa, and I need to try to finish arrangements for that).  I'll definitely need a lot more practice before I try to tackle anything as elaborate as a quilt.

I've mentioned before how sometimes I despair over just how many books there are left to read, even in my personal library.  Those days reading does feel more like an obligation or even a compulsion and no longer something I am doing for enjoyment.  But other times it is much more entertaining, and I take it all more lightly.  The last few weeks have been generally pretty good.  I managed to get through the 8 library books that had been dumped on me all at once, though I decided that the 9th (The Immortals) just wasn't my cup of tea.  Most were pretty good, and I'll be reviewing a few of them in different combinations, though I might just mention a few interesting aspects of the ones that I don't plan on reviewing.

I have to agree with those that found Saadat Manto's Bombay Stories to be kind of repetitive.  He almost only focuses on two classes of people in Bombay -- film writers (and occasionally actors) and prostitutes (and their pimps).  I tend to think of cities as incredibly layered places where all kinds of social groups and classes go about their business, but often not really interacting.  Ships in the night, and all that.  Most novels or collections of stories, when you boil them down, only a focusing on one or two social strata.  Russell Smith is mostly concerned with artists (and to a much lesser extent the business people who are their patrons).  Jay McInerney is mostly focused on how Ivy league graduates come of age in the city.  Despite the many, many characters involved, I'd say Findley really is only tackling 3 or so social groups in Headhunter.  Obviously, there are novels that focus on the clash between different groups, trying to use the same space (Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind but also the lesser known The Innocence of Age).  It may not be a coincidence that often these books around cultural clashes often feel a bit forced.

Anyway, I finished up McInerney's Bright Lights Big City.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would (even the parts about the dead mother), though it might have spoken to me a bit more had I read it in my 20s like everyone else.  I had thought I would be parting with it, but I guess it will go into long-term storage.  I am a lot more likely to part with Iris Owens' After Claude, which is about a neurotic New Yorker, who seems determined to burn every last bridge.  I was going to make some cutting remarks comparing her to that young woman who carried a mattress across the stage during commencement, but decided it just wasn't worth the effort (aside from noting that there are people who merely by entertaining your life makes it a misery*).  I did find it interesting that Emily Prager (in the introduction) says that Iris Owens was a fairly exhausting (former) friend and that she (Iris) did in fact cut many friends out of her life.

I kept hoping to like Karan Mahajan's Family Planning more than I did.  I ultimately found the father and son to be too weak-spined for my taste.  (I realize that one doesn't have to approve of characters' behaviours, but when one is reading primarily for pleasure it does help if one can mentally put oneself into the characters' shoes/situation.)  I had kind of imagined the garage band that the son starts (The Flyover Yaars) would act as a bit of a wild chorus to the action (maybe not too dissimilar to the gang in Fuentes' Christopher Unborn), but the band disbanded after a few practices and a sorry concert.  Still, Mahajan is a good writer, and I'll keep my eyes out for his next book.

Finally, I just wrapped up the short essays in Muriel Spark's The Informed Air.  This is a book worth browsing, but definitely not one to buy.  There are basically two anecdotes on becoming a writer worth reading (including how Graham Greene was essentially a patron of hers before she became famous), an amusing essay on how the Bronte girls were terrible tutors, some scattered thoughts on Proust (she thinks anyone who doesn't see his genius is just not sensitive enough) and several essays on the Book of Job.  Apparently, she even wrote a novel inspired by the Book of Job (The Only Problem).  I'm not sure I have the fortitude to read it.  While I don't really want to get into it in depth here, for me the Book of Job precipitated a crisis of faith (not that I remember ever having any Christian beliefs, but apparently I did at one point).  I personally think that anyone who really studies the Book of Job and ponders its meaning and still remains a Christian is a fool.  While I sort of liked the spunky Muriel Spark who set out to become a writer, I liked her less and less as I worked my way through the essays.  Well, what can I say?  I suppose there will be readers out there who will gradually find me less and less appealing as I start to reveal my innermost thoughts.

* While it is his story to tell, not mine, it sounds like my brother's ex-wife falls into this same category of somewhat mentally unstable women you should cross the road to avoid.

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