December 29th, 2008

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 33

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  1. Fadiman, Anne — Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (132 pages)
  2. Grimwood, Ken — Replay (266 pages)
  3. Barrie, J.M. — Peter Pan (246 pages)

Page count: 8712.

I was still in the mood for fantasy, Christmas was rapidly approaching, and the last book had me thinking about themes of renewed youth and eternal life, so Peter Pan practically fell off my bookshelf into my hands.

There's nothing I can say about this story that hasn't been said a million times already and by more capable people. It's a magical children's story.

Surprisingly, though, I was a bit disappointed by the novel. I had never read it before, nor seen the play. I was familiar with the story as part of popular culture and through various movie adaptations. I suppose I lost patience with Peter Pan because it did not live up to my idealized image of it.

When you get down to it, Peter and Tink can be pretty despicable characters. But upon re-examination, that's part of Barrie's genius: his characters aren't merely caricatures of some whimsical ideal. Peter isn't just some idealized legendary figure: he exhibits all the arrogance and thoughtlessness that accompany immaturity, and yet he's brave and honourable and playful. He's a real boy, just one who can fly and never grows up.

I think Peter Pan works best with a buffer or filter. I like it better looking back on it a couple of weeks later than I did while reading it. I like it much better having just watched the original Disney feature or the recent Finding Neverland for the first time, or rewatching Hook. Peter Pan works much better as myth than novel, and evoking eternal truths as it does, myth is just what it has become.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 34

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  1. Fadiman, Anne — Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (132 pages)
  2. Grimwood, Ken — Replay (266 pages)
  3. Barrie, J.M. — Peter Pan (246 pages)
  4. Stanislavski, Konstantin — An Actor Prepares (315 pages)

Page count: 9027.

An Actor Prepares is one of the books I have been reading on and off for the past several months. I picked it up earlier this year thinking I need to improve my acting skills to become a more complete singer.

That desire hasn't changed. I found, though, that this book did little to help. It's not that I think Stanislavski's technique is flawed or that he explains it poorly. I'm not enough of a theater pedagogue to be qualified to say one way or the other. It's just that much of what's in the book, I've already known or have already practiced. I did take an acting class in high school and have done workshops on acting in opera and musical theater. And I have done quite a bit of acting at the school and community theater levels. Of course, I want to be a professional, and while the voice is the most important consideration as an opera singer, I feel my acting chops should be better than "decent for community theater." I thought reading an acclaimed book on acting technique would help, but it offered little I wasn't already acquainted with.

I suspect Stanislavski himself realized the book's limited practicality. Throughout the book, presented as a fictional student's account of his experience in a drama class, the professor keeps pointing out that these exercises and techniques mustn't be practiced except in the presence of a knowledgable tutor who can ensure the acting doesn't devolve into any sort of falseness or theatricality. I understand the few new concepts I learned quite well, but it's just this sort of practice under tutelage that I need and that the book cannot provide. An intellectual understanding of acting technique is fruitless, as acting is doing and being and needs a dynamic emotional engagement.

I'm not disappointed I read Stanislavski's work, and I may indeed decide to read some of his other stuff in the future, but what I need is hands-on mentoring such as from a class.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 35

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  1. Fadiman, Anne — Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (132 pages)
  2. Grimwood, Ken — Replay (266 pages)
  3. Barrie, J.M. — Peter Pan (246 pages)
  4. Stanislavski, Konstantin — An Actor Prepares (315 pages)
  5. Wolfe, Gene — Peace (265 pages)

Page count: 9292.

Just days before Christmas, I wanted something appropriate to the season. I also wanted, with the year rapidly coming to a close, something easy to read that I could be sure to finish before the year ended. The first piece of Peace, recounting a Christmas spent in the South, had me thinking I had scored thematically. However, the writing style was at times as impenetrable as Malcolm Lowry's, and I feared it might take forever to read. As my reading progressed I confirmed that I batted .500 on my assumptions but was dead wrong about my first-chapter impressions: this story might be more appropriate to Halloween than Christmas, but the prose became much more readable after the first twenty or thirty pages, as one got used to the constant time-shifting.

Peace is, supposedly, the memoirs of Alden Dennis Weer. He exists at some level in the future, though it is never quite clear on what plane his existence takes place. As he recounts his life, he jumps back and forth to various not-necessarily-connected events. Gradually, we start to develop a sense of who Mr. Weer is not only from the recounted events, but through what and how he chooses to tell us. It also becomes clear from the onset that Mr. Weer might not be the most reliable narrator. "Facts" occasionally contradict each other; seldom is a story finished, more often than not suspended just prior to its climax (In fact, the novel itself seems simply to run out of pages without any sense of concluded story arc.); timelines and episodes are bungled together seemingly carelessly; and Weer seems to have an inordinate obsession with death, ghosts, the exotic/bizarre/fantastical, and the supernatural. The overall effect is to create a sense of timelessness, hauntedness, disorientation, and unsettledness that belies the book's title.

My initial impression when I finished the last page, sensing how anticlimactic and incomplete it felt, was "What the—?!" I can't claim I fully understand what happened at all. But the more I mull over it, the more Wolfe's intent and accomplishment becomes apparent.