Weekend media roundup

I finished and/or read a number of books in the last few days. Here’s a roundup:

The Interpretation of Murder
Interpretation of Murderby Jed Rubenfeld; narrated by Kirby Heyborne

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. Rubenfeld mixes a significant amount of historical writing (almost like Erik Laarsen would write) in with his description of the murder and the psychologists involved. He also oscillates the narration quite a bit, shifting from third-person to first and back, without much clear distinction or reason for doing so.

I particularly liked his description of the Cason used to create the foundations at the base of the Manhatten bridge. I’d seen about that on the Discovery channel, but it was cool to hear about again.

The book tells the fictional story of Freud’s involvement with the murder of a wealthy young woman in one of New York’s most elite apartment buildings. A second woman, attacked but not killed, loses her voice and is unable to remember the attack. In come the psychoanalysts to help her overcome her amnesias.

Heyborne did a good job too. His voices, particularly those for the coroner and the millionaire, were solid.

Foundation and Empire
Second Foundationby Isaac Asimov

I read the Foundation Trilogy a long time ago, but recently re-read Foundation. I just had a hankerin’ to read the next section this week.

It isn’t as good as Foundation. I liked the first book’s insistence on using several parts to tell the story of the foundation over a long time. By contrast, Foundation and Empire focuses mostly on one period, the fall of the first foundation at the hands of The Mule.

Foundation‘s most interesting bit is its exploration of the various means for cultures to interact and react to one another. The small colony wins through detente, then through religious manipulation, and finally through free trade. In the second book, the colony faces a man–The Mule– who seemingly conquers with no effort at all, his enemies falling to his forces with virtually no fight. The more limited scope reduces the number of cultural templates Asimov can explore.

The bureaucracy of the Foundation has become complacent and magisterial, so confident in its own divine right (via Harry Selden) that it is unable to recognize the threat to its security until it’s too late. After all, Harry helps those who help themselves.

Chronicles, Volume 1
Chronicles, Vol 1by Bob Dylan; narrated by Sean Penn

Fascinating. Dylan has a poetic writing style, with an acute eye for detail (often describing passing moments from 20 years ago with striking intricacy). He uses lots of metaphors, describing how songs attacked him, shaped him, spoke to him. His discussion of other musicians makes similar moves.

The structure of the book is a bit strange, and for a while I thought I’d gotten one of the discs out of order. The disc marked “5” on my iPod would have fit much more appropriately as disc 2. At least, that was my impression at the beginning of disc 5. As it concluded, though, it was clearly wrapping up the book, ending at the beginning so to speak.

Two observations that came out of this book for me:

  1. I already knew my dad was a folky. His preferred playing style with finger-picking, but he played a wide range of celtic and standard folk songs. He liked “Wabash Cannonball” enough to write his own verses to make it longer. But the extent of his interest (and expertise?) in the genre didn’t become clear to me until I listened to this book. At several points, Dylan mentions people who influenced him, people he was listening to or playing with. I found that I had a lot of those people on CD, all of them in the collection I had inherited from Pop. A couple I can remember right now: Jack Elliot, John Koerner, Leadbelly. Judging by the amount I like those artists, it makes me want to get hold of two others that Dylan talks about in glowing ways (no laughing that I don’t have these already): Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson.
  2. Dylan’s concern for his family that drove some of his strange musical choices in his middle career was surprising and endearing. It’s heartwarming to think of him as a family man.
  3. Dylan expresses a love for Denzel Washington at one point, commenting that the actor had played both the Mighty Quinn and Hurricane Carter, both of whom Dylan had written songs about. Dylan suggests that he didn’t know whether Washington had any interest in playing Woody Guthrie, but that Dylan would welcome the actor to do so.

Penn does a great job with the narration, bringing a growly character to the reading that fits Dylan’s style well, if not his voice precisely.

Band of Brothers, disc 5

Band of BrothersI finally finished the Spielberg/Hanks war epic Band of Brothers. My absolute favorite aspect of this story is that it could build such a relationship with the characters that the narrative was able to sustain a war movie in which the final two episodes did not have a single battle scene.

Episode 9: Why We Fight
I suppose I should have seen this episode coming, but I didn’t. The soldiers come upon a concentration camp. Such scenes are always going to be moving, but this sequence, coming as a surprise to the soldiers as well as to the viewer, stunned me to the core. The title for the episode come from a pamphlet one of the soldiers is reading, which explains that the Germans are “very bad.” The soldiers make light early on but the idea returns later.

One of the more effective bits of this episode is the way it shows how unexpected this was for the everyday soldier. I understand that stories of these camps had been circulating for a while, but the soldiers on the ground didn’t always know what was coming.

I am also intrigued by the ambiguity of character in the two sequences between Captain Nixon (Ron Livingston) and the haughty lady whose husband is an officer in the army. In the first, she finds Nixon rummaging through her living room, looking for alcohol. He has thrown a framed portrait of her officer-husband on the floor and shattered the glass. She watches him with disdain and he walks out without comment. In the second, Nixon sees her (seeks her out?) among the townspeople who have been forced to help bury the bodies at the camp. Their eyes meet again and she has lost her haughtiness, but it’s unclear what’s going on in Nixon’s eyes. I’d be interesting to see what folks think about this scene, if you’ve seen it.

City of Glass
City of Glassby Paul Auster

I re-read this book this weekend to prepare for my Mystery book club (which meets at the incomparable Centuries and Sleuths bookstore), which was discussing it at my recommendation. I was a bit worried, because the group tends to read mostly procedurals or other more straightforward mysteries, and this book was far different from those. My first question to the group was “Is this a mystery? Or, is this appropriate for this group to have read?”

The group really enjoyed it, for the most part. A few folks said they didn’t like it, though. One woman said she only read about 20 pages and then stopped:

It starts out and the main character is fractured! He’s lost his family, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s hollow. It can only go downhill from there.

Some people didn’t like the book’s story, but they appreciated Auster’s writing or the depth of ideas at work in the book. We didn’t talk about the commentary on the mystery genre that interests me so much about the book, but that’s okay. Anyhow, my first recommendation to the group was a success. It also re-motivated me to dig back into Don Quixote.