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December 8, 2003

TT: Bookshelf

I'm still sneezing and wheezing. I cancelled all my weekend performances (I can't believe I was too sick to go hear Chanticleer's annual Christmas concert at the Metropolitan Museum!), and I haven't set foot out of the apartment since Friday night other than to buy food and drugs. All I've done is sleep, watch TV, and read.

The last of these has proved to be an unexpected delight, though, for my six-month stint as a judge for the National Book Awards left me next to no time to read purely for my pleasure, and it's been fun to chew through a stack of books simply because they looked good to me.

No pleasure should remain unshared, so here are three books I read this weekend that I strongly recommend:

  • Notes on Directing, by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich (RCR Creative Press). Exactly what does the director of a play do? This book wasn't written to answer that question, but it does so anyway. Notes on Directing is a 126-page Strunk-and-White-type list of 130 annotated dos and don'ts for theatrical directors, some as bluntly practical as a slap in the face ("1. Read the play"), others subtle and suggestive ("67. Never express actions in terms of feelings"). I've never read anything that taught me more about the theater in so short a space.

  • Nutcracker Nation: How an Old World Ballet Became a Christmas Tradition in the New World, by Jennifer Fisher (Yale University Press). Just a couple of months ago, a friend asked me if anyone had ever written a book that compared all the different versions of The Nutcracker. Nutcracker Nation isn't quite that, but it's even better: a lucidly written, thoroughly informed cultural history of the reception, spread, and significance of The Nutcracker in the United States. Like Notes on Directing, it's concise (230 pages), full of fascinating things I didn't know, and a perfect stocking-stuffer for the balletomane on your Christmas list.

  • Aaron Copland: A Reader, Selected Writings 1923-1972, edited by Richard Kostelanetz (Routledge). America's greatest classical composer was also a first-rate critic and essayist. This anthology, the first to be drawn from the complete body of Copland's prose writings, offers a representative cross-section of his views on matters musical, cultural, and autobiographical. Some pieces, like Copland's 1949 address to the Waldorf Peace Conference, have never been collected, and a brief but evocative selection of previously unpublished letters and diary entries serves as a useful reminder that he was also a fine letter-writer whose complete correspondence is sorely in need of publication. Essential reading for anyone who cares about American music.

    Oh, yes--while you're at it, don't forget to buy The Skeptic!

    Posted December 8, 2003 12:04 PM

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