Book Review: The Man of Feeling by Javier Marias

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Spain
Author: Javier Marias
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
TitleThe Man of Feeling
Publication Info: New Directions (2003)
ISBN: 0811215318
Summary/Review:

This short meditative book is narrated from the perspective of a young opera singer who travels across Europe for performances.  On one of his journeys he shares a train cabin with an attractive woman, her husband, and a man who works as their handler (for lack of a better word).  It seems painfully obvious that the narrator will lust after the woman, that the power-hungry husband won’t like that, and the handler will play both sides against one another, because that is exactly what happens.  Marias narrator is not a sympathetic character, even as he details the reprehensible behavior of the others in this quartet, he still comes off as the worst.  The saving grace is that Marias – and his translator – makes good use of lyric writing with a few turns of the flowery word and a narrative built on a dreamlike quality.  This is not a book to read for the plot or the characters, just the well-crafted prose.  Marias describes his work accurately in the epilogue as ‘a love story in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.”
Rating: **

World Cup of Reading

So, the FIFA World Cup ended over a month ago, but I still used this year’s tournament as inspiration to revive my ongoing Around the World for a Good Book project.  The basic gist is that I’m attempting to read a work of fiction (in English or English translation) from every country in the world.  So far I’ve been able to read literature from more fifty nations, but I’ve stalled out the past couple of years.

My goal for 2014 is to try to read a book for all 32 nations represented in this years World Cup.  Luckily, countries I’ve read abundantly – such as England and the United States – as well as other countries I’ve read for the project were represented in the tournament, so I will only have 12 books to read to complete the field.

Here are the books I’ve read, or plan to read, for the World Cup nations of 2014.  As always, I’m open to suggestions.

 

Song of the Week: “New Orleans” by Naxxos

Naxxos is an electronic music duo based in Vienna, and “New Orleans” is an electronic dance track enlivened by scorching saxophone solos.  What can I say?  I grew up in the 1980s.

 

 

What are you listening to this week?

Song of the Week: “Just One of the Guys” by Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis is responsible (with The Watson Twins) for one of my favorite albums of all time, Rabbit Fur Coat.  I didn’t like her follow-up Acid Tongue as much, but now she’s back with The Voyager and it’s very catchy single “Just One of the Guys.”   The sunny melody belies the deeper meaning of the lyrics which reveal something new with each listening.

Here’s the already famous video where Lewis is backed up by a band of Hollywood stars:

Beer Review: Smuttynose Vunderbar!

BeerSmuttynose Vunderbar
Brewer: Smuttynose Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: *** (7 of 10)
Comments: Vunderbar! pours out a cloudy straw color with a lot of bubbly carbonation and a thin but solid head.  Both the bubbles and head persisted even after quaffing a lot of the beer.  The aroma is grassy with a hint of spice.  The flavor is grainy with a nice balance and a bit of spice, the classic pilsner flavor.  The taste was consistent through the emptying glass.  This is a beer I could easily drink a lot of.  Watch out for it on a warm summer’s evening!

 

Movie Review: Prohibition (2011)

Title: Prohibition
Release Date: 2 October 2011
Director: Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Production Co: Florentine Films
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | History
Rating: ****

This Ken Burns documentary illustrates the United States’ experiment with banning alcoholic beverages. The story is told in three parts.

Part I documents the adverse effect alcohol consumption had on Americans, especially men, who drank away their pay while women and children suffered poverty and abuse.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union organized to successfully (albeit temporarily) shut down saloons, and inadvertently providing a political outlet for women that helped the suffrage movement. On the other hand, alcohol played an important social role, especially in immigrant communities.  The dark side of the temperance movement is that it was made up of rural and small-town Protestants from the mid-west and south who were prejudice against the immigrant groups in the big cities.  The strongest opponents to prohibition were German-American brewers, so it was no surprise that anti-German sentiment during WWI helped sway the national opinion towards Prohibition.

Part II shows America under Prohibition.  Interestingly enough, many people (including politicians who voted for the amendment) expected beer and wine to be permitted under Prohibition.  The Anti-Saloon League under Wayne Wheeler are able to influence the drafting of the Volstead Act which enforced Prohibition by banning all beverages with more than one-half of one-percent alcohol.  There were many loopholes such as people who stocked up before the ban or those who could get prescriptions for medicinal alcohol.  While many in the heartland were pleased to abstain, places like New York City exploded with illegal importation and distilling of liquors.  These illegal activities were soon consolidated under organized crime bosses whose territorial battles contributed to notorious violence.

Part III illustrates the growing awareness that the levels of hypocrisy and unintended consequences of Prohibition, ultimately leading to repeal.

An interesting aspect of this documentary is it shows how the Prohibition story accompanies the increased role of women in American public life.  The temperance movement was led by women.  Mabel Walker Willebrandt enforced the Volstead Act in her duties as U.S. Assistant Attorney General.  Lois Long documented the glamour and sexual liberation of speakeasy nightlife in her articles for the The New Yorker.  And Pauline Sabin lead the political movement for repeal as head of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform.

Like Ken Burn’s other works, this was an excellent and informative documentary, richly illustrated with period photographs and films and words read from primary documents by actors and narrators.  I learned a lot from this film.

 

Songs of the Week: The Island of Dr. Electrico by The Bombay Royale

Australia-based band The Bombay Royale recreates the feel of Bollywood in the 1960s and 1970s with a mix of funk, disco, and surf music.  Honestly, I always wonder with these kind of things if it wouldn’t be better to just listen to Bollywood recordings from the 60s and 70s, but The Bombay Royale are entertaining enough to be worth a least one listen.  I can’t seem to break down the SoundCloud tracks one by one, so I’m just embedding their entire 2014 album The Island of Dr. Electrico below.  I’m also posting the video for “Henna, Henna” which isn’t my favorite song but it does show the band’s unique aesthetic.

 

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