Here’s my latest videoblog, produced by The Horizon, Commentary‘s artblog. In it I talk about the New York Philharmonic’s planned visit to North Korea (about which I wrote here) and “The Cult of the Difficult,” an essay about modernism that appears in the December issue of Commentary. I also pay a visit to a New York art gallery, Knoedler & Company, and discuss their exhibition of the late paintings of Jules Olitski. (Yes, that’s Mrs. T who makes a cameo appearance at the end.)
5 x 5 Books … is a recommendation of five books that appears regularly in this space. This week’s installment comes from Matthew Eck, whose novel The Farther Shore is the Lit Blog Co-op’s Read This! Selection for winter. In a review for Salon, Stephen Elliott described Eck’s book as “a truly great war novel by a writer of sizable talent who has come close to war.” Keep up with the LBC discussion of the novel going on this week here.
It’s that time of the year where we like to get depressed and we like to drink. We visit family and friends — and pets are left alone for days on end with too little water. In the title I use the word “around” because not all the writers on this list drink. I use the word “few” because I’ve already embarrassed myself enough out there in the world. But never apologize — even as you knock over the Christmas tree.
I’m not saying that writers have to drink either, don’t get me wrong there. I never drink anything but coffee when I’m writing. Don’t dull your senses. Don’t introduce bad habits into your writing time.
I think I really chose these books because I must have somehow gotten a little depressed around all these writers at one point. But it’s that little bit of depression I carried back to the beauty of their books, their work heavy with loss.
1. The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley. This is one of those novels where I’ll let the writing speak for itself. It has one of the greatest first lines in all of literature: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”
The writing in the book is unbearably beautiful. Case in point, later in the book:
Behind her, the clouds surrendered their last crimson streaks to a soft, foggy gray. A single tall evergreen tilted against the falling sky. Behind me, the party began to rumble like thunder. Peggy relit the hash pipe, and this time I accepted it from her. We shared the smoke as the evening winds rose off the cold sea, rose up the wooded ridges, and herded the party inside, people muttering thin complaints like children called from play to the fuzzy dreams of the their early beds.
2. Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn. If you’ve ever wanted to be loved, read this book. And this next sentence has nothing to do with what I just said: Kirn has written some of the finest scenes about Mormon sex, in case that’s what you’re looking to give, or get, for Christmas. This is one of the few books that made me laugh until I cried — and not because it’s all funny.
3. A Stranger In This World by Kevin Canty. This is one of the few books that made me cry until I needed to laugh. I love to teach “Dogs” and “Pretty Judy.” Besides, the man turned me on to Babel. I’ll love him forever for that one.
4. The End of the Story by Lydia Davis. I do not know Lydia Davis — let me make that clear. But I once sat in a room where fifteen or twenty MFA-ers were trying to talk to her. Okay, so I wasn’t sitting, I was trying as well. I love this book for the way memory tumbles against memory. I love the “nothing” it offers.
5. Tom Thomson In Purgatory by Troy Jollimore. One of the notes I scribbled in the margins of this book reads, “Did you ever get laid on Christmas?” It’s not a note to Tom Thomson either. It was fodder for the friend I gave the book to. This is a book you’ll have to buy for someone else because it’ll say so much to you.
I got out of the hospital two years ago today. I didn’t say so in this space at the time, but it was the woman now known as Mrs. T who escorted me home that afternoon. We’d met at a dinner in Baltimore a month or so before, and promptly made plans to see a play in New York (Waiting for Godot, believe it or not) on what ended up being the day after I called an ambulance for myself. Instead she came to visit me at Lenox Hill Hospital, and twenty-two months later we said I do in front of a boatful of astonished and delighted onlookers. Now she’s in Smalltown, U.S.A., taking care of my mother. For some mysterious reason, Hilary seems to enjoy taking care of Teachouts.
I wish I were there, and a week from now I will be, but for the moment I still have shows to see and pieces to write. That’s why I posted this picture today: I wanted you to see what I’m missing!
It’s good to be alive.
Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.
Warning: Broadway shows marked with an asterisk were sold out, or nearly so, last week.
Because of the recently settled stagehands’ strike, many Broadway shows are offering heavily discounted tickets to certain performances. For information, go here.
• August: Osage County (drama, R, adult subject matter, closes Mar. 9, reviewed here)
• Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
• A Chorus Line (musical, PG-13/R, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• The Drowsy Chaperone (musical, G/PG-13, mild sexual content and a profusion of double entendres, reviewed here)
• The Farnsworth Invention (drama, PG-13, reviewed here)
• Grease * (musical, PG-13, some sexual content, reviewed here)
• Rock ‘n’ Roll * (drama, PG-13, way too complicated for kids, reviewed here)
• The Seafarer (drama, PG-13, adult subject matter, reviewed here)
• The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (musical, PG-13, mostly family-friendly but contains a smattering of strong language and a production number about an unwanted erection, closes Jan. 20, reviewed here)
IN NEW YORK:
• Pygmalion * (comedy, G, suitable for mature and intelligent young people, closes Dec. 16, reviewed here)
• Things We Want (drama, R, adult subject matter, closes Dec. 30, reviewed here)
• West Bank, UK (musical, R, adult subject matter, closes Sunday, reviewed here)
“It fascinates me that O’Neill and Miller write so badly. They could never have been novelists. But James, Dickens and Joyce were simply too eloquent and abundant in language for the stage. It may be that after Shakespeare the link between theater and language begins to fray.”
Harold Bloom (courtesy of Histriomastix)