December 12, 2006

holiday readings, viewings, and listenings: 3 of each


1. Bleak House

If you missed it on PBS, buy the DVD set and unplug the telephone for five nights straight. 15 episodes, watch three in a row (it takes some time to figure out who is who and where the plot is going). The screenplay is by Andrew Davies, of Pride and Prejudice fame.

2. Six Feet Under

A grassy cube containing all five seasons on 24 discs. Don't give this as a present, get this for yourself. Unplugging the telephone for 63 straight nights not recommended, it might look antisocial.

3. Gosford Park

Pay tribute to a great director of ensemble movies. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the acting in the movie "sublime".


1. Never Let Me Go (by Kazuo Ishiguro)

Unabridged audio version (almost 10 hours) of Ishiguro's 2005 prize-winning book. Narrated by Rosalyn Landor. This is a book that works better as an audio book - it needs to be taken in at slow pace, almost passively. Its sadness will creep in on you.

2. Black Swan Green (by David Mitchell)

I talked about this book here. Do you remember what it was like to be 13? Let a reader do part of the work for you and follow Jason through a year of magical thinking and not-so-magical humiliation as a 13-year old boy with an interest in poetry and a speech impairment. Listening to the audiobook makes you painfully aware of Jason's stammering and how it affects him. Of the three audiobooks I list, this is probably the most upbeat one (which doesn't mean that our hero doesn't get humiliated and beaten up again and again. But he is only 13, and he's a reader, and he has a smart sister, and there is hope.

3. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

The New Yorker wrote that Joan Didion knows about "the dark side of cool". In a world that crumbles she holds on to the precise description of details. I liked the audiobook version (unabridged, 5 hours) very much, probably because the narrator (Barbara Caruso) has exactly the voice that I imagined Didion to have. But this would also be a great read.


Let me recommend three books, one fiction, one non-fiction, and one a linguistics book. First the non-fiction book:

1. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, by David Foster Wallace

And you thought he could only do 1000-page novels?

2. Please don't come back from the Moon, by Dean Bakopoulos

Another coming-of-age story, this one set in the Midwest. "When I was sixteen, my father went to the moon." That's the first sentence in the book. How could one not continue to read?

3. Weeds in the Garden of Words, by Kate Burridge

In this book, Kate Burridge, a linguistics professor, writes entertainingly about "weeds" in the garden of English vocabulary - words and phrases "whose virtues have yet to be realized". This is for your smart friend who likes to read about language but who'd rather get it from a pro than from a grumpy pseudo-maven.

Happy holidays.

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