Talking About Books . . .


Robert Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies and undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about movies, has updated his book 85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.  This 464 page book contains information on all of the Academy Awards since it all began with the 1927-1928 awards presented at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in a 15 minute ceremony on May 16, 1929.  The 86th Academy Awards will be presented on March 2, 2014, so this book is as up to date as it can be.

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A 70 page novella entitled Footlights written by Charlie Chaplin, and used as the basis for Limelight one of his best known movies, will finally be published on Feb. 11, 2014.   Chaplin biographer David Robinson has constructed the novella from drafts found in the Chaplin archive at the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy.  Chaplin not only wrote the scripts for the movies he starred in, he also wrote the music.  And now he will add “novelist” to his list of accomplishments.

The theme to the 1952 movie Limelight is hauntingly beautiful, and the version performed by guitarist Chet Atkins has long been my favorite version of it.

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Stig Abell commutes to and from work on the “tube” in London every day. In the hour it takes each way he has managed to read one of Shakespeare’s plays a week, and is encouraging you to do the same in this London Evening Standard article.   Why read Shakespeare?  In part, “because the plays are madcap, majestic, lustrous, zany, tranquil, generous, bloodstained and monumental.”  Also because, when you finish, you can say that you’re a “Bard ass.”

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Swann's Way

What should you read once you finish Shakespeare?  Allan Massie, in a Telegraph article, suggests Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, the first volume of his Remembrances of Things Past.  Though the going may be tough, he thinks Proust is worth the effort in part because of his comic genius.  “Proust is many things,” Massie writes, “but chief among them, he is a comic novelist, alert to the absurdity of human nature and behaviour, keenly aware of the deceptions we practise on ourselves as well as on others, alive to the discrepancies between appearance and reality.”

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A recent Pew Research survey has found that more and more Americans are using e-readers.  The survey also found that people who primarily read e-books also read print books, but people who primarily read print books seldom read e-books.  The most diverse group is composed of those who enjoy audio books.  They also read e-books and print books.

The above reminds me of a public radio survey from long ago that found that people who primarily listen to classical music will occasionally also listen to opera, but people who primarily listen to opera seldom listen to classical music.

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The Omnivore’s Hatchet Job of the Year Award shortlist is out, but no author would want to be on it. The award (or booby prize might be a better term) is designed, so they say, to promote integrity and wit in literary journalism.  It might also promote murder and suicide.

Here are a few remarks made by reviewers who have made it to the finals:


“No amount of straining for high-flown uplift can disguise the fact that The Goldfinch is a turkey.” – Peter Kemp on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“The first thing to be said about their exchanges is how extraordinarily unpleasant they are, almost as though they were trying to make it into the Guinness Book Of Records under a section called Authors, Most Bilious. It is all a bit like watching a tennis match, but instead of the competitors bashing balls to and fro, they prefer to bash authors and artists more successful than themselves.” – Craig Brown on Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein

A Delicate Truth

“Le Carré affects, as so often, to be making daring revelations about How Things Really Work. In the clever process, he stretches his thrills with mixed clichés, idiosyncratic phrases (can people ‘go faint at the knees’?) and witless dialogue whaleboned with ‘he retorted stiffly’ and the like.” – Frederic Raphael on A Delicate Truth by John Le Carré

The  winner will be announced on February 11.

The Telegraph also offers ten classic put-downs here.

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