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Richard Strauss: v. 1: Critical Commentary on His Life and Works
Richard Strauss: v. 1: Critical Commentary on His Life and Works
by Norman Del Mar
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The DEFINITIVE and SUPERB books on Richard Strauss, 19 Jan 2009
Del Mar's 3 volume biography of Strauss was and is THE greatest work on the man and his music ever written.

These books contain a comprehensive review of all important biographical information but what makes them outstanding is the meticulous and detailed review of the music - for example, in this volume on Der Rosenkavalier, the letter from Strauss' librettist Hoffmanthsal describing the overture as intended to show "lovemaking at night" (and a premature orgasm from Octavian!) adds incredible insight to our view of the music, and then the leitmotiv-by-leitmotiv analysis of all the scores further deepens this.

Magesterial and essential.


Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan
Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan
by Caroline Fourest
Edition: Hardcover

45 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Annoying and Envious, but with some interesting side comments, 12 Jan 2008
Published under the auspices of the self-consciously right-wing / neo-conservative publishing house "Encounter Books", Ms. Fourest has already been feted by the right wing American establishment for this attempt to denigrate the reputation of Mr. Tariq Ramadan, an important liberal Muslim thinker. Ms. Fourest is an engaging journalist well known for feminist and proto-feminist writing and for an expose style of investigation, and her writing (though occasionally sharp) is attractive and gives the book a highly polished readability.

Unfortunately however, her approach here is intruiging largely for its revelations about the anti-pluralistic and illiberal instincts of its ideal audience. For example, Fourest is displeased that Ramadan explains and justifies "secular" values important to Western democracies so that their relevance in an Islamic context might become more evident - she would clearly prefer him to refute Islam, and dismisses his claims that life in Western societies permit Muslims "to be able fully to live our spirituality and our pratices", for instance, or "to be able to act in the name of our faith". It is ofcourse somewhat difficult to understand why she would dislike Muslims feeling included and comfortable "to act in the name of faith"... unless a fundamental dislike of the religion is at issue.

Finally, a persistent feeling of dislike at Mr. Ramadan's success also seems to pervade the book. This is a shame as many of us would have liked a truly impartial biography of this increasingly popular voice of liberal Islam.


1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
by James S. Shapiro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dry but superbly researched, 19 Oct 2007
Shapiro's book is occasionally brilliant and always rich in detail. Starting in the winter of 1598/1599, the striking first image (the players of Shakespeare's Chamberlain's Men company, with Shakespeare likely one of them, descend in the night as a fully armed gang intent on dismbembering a theatre) is met with some startling insights into the creative process, but too often flows into a dry academic vocabulary.

This book, nonetheless, is extraordinarily successful at showing us the moods and currents of the epoch and how these inter-linking themes in the general culture influenced Shakespeare in a very productive year - and the year of the building of the Globe Theatre itself, the incubator of so much of Shakespeare's future inspiration (and, as a share-holder therein, the source of some considerable wealth for this Stratford-man done well).

Particularly noteworthy is the evocation of Elizabethan court life and the teasing out of influences on playwrights and poets that resulted from the complex power-struggles of the nobility and monarchy. Great sensitivity is shown, for example, in analysing aspects of "Hamlet" and "Julius Caesar" that derive from this hothouse milieu.

Why is this book disappointing despite its many strengths? Alas, there is something dry and inconclusive to Shapiro's work despite the sprawling review of Shakespearian mores and customs it encompasses. Shapiro is rightly wary of venturing into speculation as to the motives of Shakespeare as an individual, but this reduces a sense of clear argument within the book for all its strengh as a source of anecdotes. In comparison, and also pursuing an unorthodox but revealing analysis of the Shakespearian era, Germaine Greer's "Shakespeare's Wife" is a glittering corrective and points the way to the kind of book that this could have been - strongly argued, also richly researched but filled with a passion that Shapiro rarely aspires to. "1599" is an excellent academic tool and shows a fascinating approach, but in the end, is likely to faintly disappoint a general reader.


Beginner's Turkish [Book Only] (Teach Yourself Languages S.)
Beginner's Turkish [Book Only] (Teach Yourself Languages S.)
by Asuman Çelen Pollard
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent start for this difficult language, 29 Sep 2007
This is a well written and attractively packaged guide for those starting with absolutely no background in Turkish. Its a difficult language for those more familiar with European / Romance languages - an alien grammar with agglutinative word-building patterns. This book and CD set focuses on set piece conversations which are naturalistic and (as the book progresses) increasingly witty, and the emphasis is thematic and logical, making the lessons easy to grasp. The goal is to equip the reader for interaction in modern professional Turkish; slang is kept to a minimum.

I heartily recommend it, but even this "diet guide" required a struggle (from me!) to learn and secure in memory the necessary vocabulary; for this reason, I am not sure if it is really possible to have a "play in the car" CD that can be useful in raising people to a functional Turksih standard - this is not a "Turkish in a day" summary of a few keywords but actually a grounding in Turkish grammar (maybe I am merely a little slow?). The material in this book covers roughly the first 5 or 6 chapters of the more comprehensive Teach Yourself Turkish book - the next stage for people who master this material. DO get this if you need a strong introduction to Turkish.


Zaatardiva
Zaatardiva
by Suheir Hammad
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a treat for Valentine's day..., 28 May 2007
This review is from: Zaatardiva (Paperback)
"ZaatarDiva".

Hmm. hhhhhhh

An odd name for Ms. Suheir Hammad's excellent book of modern poetry, much of it autobiographically flavoured - who am I to question her status as "Diva"? But Zaatar (thyme) is jarring in this context, too homely perhaps, and evokes a much used recent phrase by people referring to Palestine as a touchstone for home (for example, the new book of superb short stories edited by Elmessiri, "Land of Stone and Thyme: Anthology of Palestinian Short Stories") The phrase "ZaatarDiva"'s mingling of meanings captures the tone of this book beautifully though, and some of the poems are heartbreaking and others angry, and all of it is able to evoke your strong emotions in extremely simple, pure words. Ofcourse, Hammad is not "merely" a nationalist poetess of the Palestinians. She writes rather as a young woman of joint Western and Arabic culture placed in a hostile American landscape of racial stereotypes and prejudices.

Strange therefore that her poetry is so hopefully, sunny, powerful and flexible. Its easy to read, like eating a box of rose-scented lokum (aka Turkish delight, to some). No heavy use of language here (or use of punctuation). Nothing is superfluous and much of the poetry can be as complex in ideas as the most celebrated and complex of the modernists (as rich in nuance as Ted Hughes and as supple as the modern translations of classical Greeks like Sappho), as in this excerpt from the poem "whole hands"

his hands above

have sheltered and

shaded reflected the

sun encompassed

the moon whole

... and his hands cupped

have caught me as

I fell drop by glisten

fingers coaxing my

arrival whole

Strange but seductive. Compare for example to the classical Sappho poem

"Pain penetrates

Me drop

By drop"

Subtle use of comparisons on Hammad's part, writing with a flawless mastery of the nuances of English. This simple use of language is equally powerful when relating to the modern world and the horror of politics when it imposes on the individual sensibility and conscience, as in the anger of "What I Will"

I will not

dance to your war

drum. I will

not lend my soul nor

my bones to your war

drum.

How fantastic, I think.

Stirring stuff.

IF you want to foray into modern poetry (and Suheir Hammad makes you really really want to!) then you surely could not start in a better place than this sure-footed collection.


Torment in Art: Pain, Violence and Martyrdom
Torment in Art: Pain, Violence and Martyrdom
by Lionello Puppi
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite and Uncomfortable, 14 Feb 2007
This is a beautiful and disturbing book from the famed Italian publishers, Rizzoli. It begins with a wide-ranging and scholarly essay by Puppi, reviewing the concept and form that underlie the idea and fact of torture (both as private horror and as public spectacle) and reviews the critical role of this in European public life. Torture throughout the history of Western art, so Puppi demonstrates, is celebrated because those in power required its celebraion - as a proof of power, the complicity of those suffering blurs with their acceptance of their fate in so many pictures of saints and noble prisoners. Their eyes are beseaching. In extremity, they lean on their captors and murderers.

Gorgeous canvases by Titian and Caravvagio, aongst a host of Old Masters, show again and again this rendition of horrific pain into colour and voluptious experience. In a world without anaesthetics or medicine, pain had a different relationship to the one we live in.

Nonetheless, these idea

1. that pain is acceptable and

2. that the victims are complicit in their own downfall

is critical but to us probably the most disturbing, the most 'against the grain'. But that is the unmistakeable implication that Puppi is illustrating. His conclusion is equally dark:

"So behind the figurative culture of the West lies this constant acting out of a vendetta on innumerable countless victims; an unbroken interminable slaughter... all that will change is that executions will be withdrawn from the public domain, a dark curtain will fall" p.59

This seems bizarrely contemporary given the recent policies of American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and especially in light of Guanatanomo Bay and the shock of public images of torture that leave (according to 2005 opinion polls) so many Americans unmoved. See for example, "The Abu Ghraib Effect" by Stephen F. Eisenman (2007); clearly torture still has an approved place in public life of some cultures.

A fascinating but haunting book of great beauty. It will make you think and uncomfortably wonder.


Roxy Music Collection
Roxy Music Collection
Price: £6.07

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mediocrity, alas..., 22 May 2006
This review is from: Roxy Music Collection (Audio CD)
What a great cover photograph this comes with, showing the peacock strut and confidence of the early Roxy Music in their Glam Rock glory days. Bryan Ferry's mannered low bass vocals and the bands shrieking "synth versus guitar" sounds are evoked in their stares...For that alone, I give this CD a point. But for all else - How the mighty have fallen.

In the barrage of "Roxy" compilations since the ultimate loveliness of "Avalon" (surely worth owning in its entirety!), we can easily forget how quirky and engaging the original Roxy Music albums were; each one seemed to present another facet of Bryan Ferry and co.'s hitherto unglimpsed talents, flowering masterfully into new forms. For a band that so delighted in experimentation and twisting existing genres, this selection (of so many wonderful songs and recordings) seems entirely banal. The CHOICE of songs is anodyne, presents some obviously exceptional songs but avoids so many others and is utterly unfocused. Someone seems to have left their iPOD on "shuffle" and presented us with the result.

Roxy Music were a band of genius and their hits more than simply "great songs" all came with contexts - here we have a meagre snapshot of a handful of their more celebrated moments (only "Out of the Blue" is a nod to the less well known). Save your money. If you want perfect Roxy Music, there are albums waiting for you - "Flesh and Blood", "Avalon" and "For Your Pleasure" (actually, I am prejudiced - ANY Roxy Music album will provide a thrill). If you need a compilation, "The Early Years" for their Glam Rock hey-day is surely tempting...and "Street Life: 20 Greatest Hits" for the more comprehensive overview. This abysmally-compiled CD is a tragically missed opportunity and redolent of cynical record companies cashing in with irrelevant compilations.


Microsoft Biztalk Server 2004 Unleashed
Microsoft Biztalk Server 2004 Unleashed
by Scott Woodgate
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Very Thorough - Recommended for Beginners like me, 11 Aug 2005
A very comprehensive run through of the Biztalk technology - as a novice, I found it clear, factual, packed full of useful information. Its laid out in a non-condescending but thorough way that begs the term 'fool-proof' and the writing is always clear. What more could one want as a start in a new subject? It seems to me that this could also stand as a ready reference for more experienced Biztalk users - clear indices and listings at the back assist at every step.


The Best Years Of Our Lives
The Best Years Of Our Lives
Price: £7.09

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect 70's punk posturing. An (almost) perfect album, 11 Aug 2005
Its the summer of 2005 and this 70's classic sounds FRESH! I couldn't stop playing it and it can still give all the Britpop pretenders of the current era something to aspire to. Yes, it ofcourse has the most famous of the Cockney Rebel songs, the delicious "Come Up and See Me (make me smile)", but there is an edge of irony and a savage pleasure in life that hangs about almost every song on this album. Almost all these tracks show consumate music making skill and would be able to succeed as commercial singles if released in today's less adventurous musical climate. This music SNEERS with its own self-assured brilliance. And that is saying something given the sneering vocals of the lead, Steve Harley at the height of his powers. The tortured and slightly - well, Cockney - accent is almost unique, the vocabulary of the lyrics is poetry - and too clever by half, thus rendering it almost camp (with relish, Mr. Harley drawls the lines on 'Mr Raffles': "I didn't see you had a gun - until you shot that Spanish Dancer!" while castanetas click bizarelly in the background...). Its an acquired taste, but not too hard to acquire, and the overly mannered style sizzles on a hot pan of sexual energy and thwarted male charisma. Listening to this makes you feel a little bit more groovy, baby, yeah, than you ever really thought you could be...


Darker Than You Think (Fantasy Masterworks): And Other Novels
Darker Than You Think (Fantasy Masterworks): And Other Novels
by Jack Williamson
Edition: Paperback

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Near-Classic, 11 Aug 2005
Lycanthropy, intrigue, the murderous institutions of American corporate life and the fragile will of the individual. "Darker than you think" was original even at the time for being AGAINST the dark forces it conjures, but still this is not enough to save it from some limp prose and some character-writing so weak, some failure-to-reach-conclusions so obvious, that you want to hit the un-insightful main protoganist over the head and feed him to wolves yourself. What saves the book is its wide-eyed innocence and the pace - you are never allowed the comfort that 'all things will end ok', and you really do want to know what happens next. This is adult stuff. The incidental characters are very well observed - how grief tears people apart and how tragic can be the outcomes of our most cherished hope. The obligatory femme fatale figure really IS fatal, and reminiscent of the strong anti-heroines of Phillip K. Dick. The book is some sort of mile-stone, complete with a clever elliptical ending that somehow raises all manner of (mildly) interesting issues - but anyone who's read 70's sci-fi will have a nagging feeling of deja vu. Worth the time and the investment, and certainly memorable.


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