Photopost: Getting Dizzy With Izzy

I made another first time in a long time visit to a Boston institution with a day out at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  Unlike the Museum of Fine Arts, there is only one work of art at the Gardner Museum, a collaboration of Mrs. Gardner and thousands of painters, sculptors, designers, architects, and gardeners.  This was my first visit since the opening of the new Renzo Piano wing, which is impressive, but seems mostly a utilitarian annex to the historic museum.  It was also the first time I’ve been to the museum since photography is allowed, although only of the courtyard on the main level.  Plenty of scofflaws took photos from the upper levels too, but were only stopped by the guards when using flash.  I followed Mrs. Gardner’s preference of immersing myself in the art and beauty.

Book Reviews: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Author: Ruta Sepetys
TitleBetween Shades of Gray
Narrator:Emily Klein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)

This novel set in the World War II-era depicts the oppression of Lithuanian partisans through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina.  A promising young artists, Lina and her mother and brother are rounded up by the NKVD with other women, children, the elderly, and disabled and transported to a labor camp in Siberia.  The narrative depicts the hardscrabble life as Lina and her community in the labor camp as they struggle to survive.  But there are also moments of joy and unexpected solace.  It’s a decent novel and an introduction to the Stalinist persecution of Lithuania.

Recommended booksStalemate by Icchokas Meras, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Author: Eoin Colfer
TitleArtemis Fowl: The Time Paradox
NarratorEnn Reitel
Publication Info: New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2008.

Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:


I gave up on reading the Artemis Fowl series a while back because I felt it was becoming formulaic with diminishing returns.  But I had a change of heart, and after a decade decided to pick up where I left off.  It felt good to be reacquainted with the characters like old friends.  And this book strikes me as more mature than the earlier novels.  In order to save his mother, a teenage Artemis has to go back in time with Holly to face his most devious opponent yet: his 10-year-old self.  The novel oozes with philosophical ideas and pondering of mortality.  The book also features a group of people whose goal is to cause extinction of animals, which is particularly grim.  Sure, the formula is still there (Mulch Diggums shows up for some fart jokes and the ultimate villain is the same old character) but it feels refreshed and new.  I’ll have to continue reading the newer installments of this series.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz

Author: Tony Horwitz
TitleMidnight Rising
NarratorDan Oreskes
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2011)
Previously read by same author:


Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite authors, presents a compelling history of John Brown and his followers and the keystone event of their raid on Harpers Ferry.  Brown’s life and family are discussed from childhood, to his involvement in Utopian abolition movements, and their targeted assassinations of pro-slavery advocates in “Bleeding Kansas.”  It’s eerie that the rhetoric and tactics of Brown and his followers while targeting the noble cause of abolition still resemble those of today’s Tea Party/2nd Amendment activists.The raid on Harpers Ferry took considerable planning and secrecy, although curiously it is uncertain what result Brown expected.  Did he really expect it to spark a nation-wide uprising, or did he intend a blood sacrifice?  Similarly, his changes in tactics during the raid itself contradict the planning.  What’s interesting is that while the raid was widely condemned, even by ardent abolitionists, Brown’s real influence came in his words and letters while in jail and on trial.  Even people who despised Brown and all he stood for came to admire his bravery and determination.  Horwitz’s book is an interesting account on this key event in American history and the ripples it would have throughout the country.

Recommended booksCloudsplitter by Russell Banks
Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: So, anyway… by John Cleese

AuthorJohn Cleese
Title: So, anyway…
Publication Info: Crown Archetype (2014)

Pretty much as good as one would expect from an autobiography of a famous comedian and writer.  It’s funny, and offers some insights into the writing process.  For some reason I expected that Cleese was an angry person, so I was surprised that he looks back on his life with amusement more than anger.  I was also surprised at how much of his career he seemed to stumble into rather than working toward a goal.  At least that’s how he presents it.  After probably a bit too much detail about his childhood and education, things get interesting at he gets involved with the Footlights Revue who put on a performance so successful it ends up being performed in London’s West End as Cambridge Circus.  The show then goes on tour to New Zealand and then to Broadway.  While in New York, Cleese meets Connie Booth, and performs in a Broadway musical, something that seems to surprise him as much as it does the reader.  Back in England, Cleese takes on comic writing roles for radio and tv programs such as The Frost Report, increasingly taking on acting roles as well and then getting a program with his own group, At Last the 1948 Show.  During this period, he and Graham Chapman cement their relationship as a writing duo.  The book ends just short of the debut of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  I don’t know if this is it, or if Cleese intends a sequel, but like any good performance, it left me wanting more.

Favorite Passages:

Young children have so little life experience that they inevitably assume that what happens around and to them is the norm

Another way of looking at this: real anger can work in real life; it won’t work as comedy. Funny anger is ineffectual anger.

One of our professors described a lecture as “a mystical process by which the notes on the pad of the lecturer pass on to the pad of the student, without passing through the mind of either.” It would certainly have been so much more efficient and absorbing if our lecturers had provided full notes for us, and had then discussed them. There could have been real interaction, question and answer, even argument, instead of dictation. But this never happened, …

I met very few of the upper classes, but when I did, I realised how different their lives were. They genuinely liked chasing things and shooting them and hooking them out of the water and asphyxiating them. Death seemed the inevitable result of all their entertainments, despite their excellent manners.

I remember reading about the doctrine of American “Exceptionalism” and thinking that what I liked so much about Canadians was that they consider themselves unexceptional. This modest, unthreatening attitude seems to produce a nation that is stable, safe, decent and well respected. It’s just a shame that for seven months of the year it’s so cold that only Canadians would put up with it.

I think there have only been about four occasions in my professional life when I have shown any real initiative: suggesting to Graham Chapman that we should contact the other four Pythons-to-be; arranging to write a sitcom with Connie; proposing to Robin Skynner that we should write a TV series about basic principles in psychology; and initiating and shaping A Fish Called Wanda. The rest of the time I have just accepted the next interesting offer, or continued in a pattern already created.

Cleese’s Two Rules of Writing Comedy. First Rule: Get your panic in early. Fear gives you energy, so make sure you have plenty of time to use that energy. (The same rule applies to exams.) Second Rule: Your thoughts follow your mood. Anxiety produces anxious thoughts; sadness begets sad thoughts; anger, angry thoughts; so aim to be in a relaxed, playful mood when you try to be funny.

Recommended booksThe First 20 Years of Monty Python by Kim “Howard” Johnson, The Life of Python : And Now for Something Completely Different by George Perry, and Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years by Michael Palin
Rating: ***1/2