Category Archives: Books

‘SHAKESPEARE’S SISTERS’ BY RAMIE TARGOFF REVIEW – FOUR WOMEN WHO WROTE THE RENAISSANCE ·

(Stephanie Merritt’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/8;Photo: Child prodigy Elizabeth Cary, the author of the first published play by a woman in English. Photograph: Magite Historic/Alamy.)

This lively, accessible insight into a quartet of female writers in Elizabethan and Jacobean England explores the complex political, patriarchal and religious backdrop to their lives

Virginia Woolf, in her seminal essay A Room of One’s Own, famously asserted that any hypothetical sister of William Shakespeare would have had her literary gifts thwarted from the outset, thanks to the restrictions on women’s education in the Elizabethan age, not to mention the burdens of motherhood and domestic drudgery.

In the last few decades, the field of feminist literary and historical studies has vastly expanded, holding up to the light those female writers who, despite Woolf’s dismissal, did exist and create in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. Ramie Targoff, professor of English at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, sets out to examine the life and work of four of the most prominent in Shakespeare’s Sisters: Four Women Who Wrote the Renaissance. One is the prolific diarist Anne Clifford, who was certainly known to Woolf because her lover, Vita Sackville-West – a direct descendant of Clifford – had published Anne’s early diaries. Where Woolf regarded Anne as “practical and little educated”, “busied with all the cares of wealth and property”, Sackville-West praised her “sharp, vigorous mind”. In Targoff’s account, Anne – who lived to be 86 – emerges as determined and independent minded, her writing offering a vivid account of her personal battle to assert her rights after she was disinherited from her father’s estate.

Most striking is the way the women had to accommodate a world of male expectations and bend their way around it

Targoff’s other three subjects are equally fascinating. There’s Mary Sidney, sister of the poet Sir Philip and later Countess of Pembroke, whose translations of the Psalms were praised by her male contemporaries, including John Donne; Aemilia Lanyer, daughter of an Italian (possibly Jewish) immigrant musician, whose name may be more familiar since Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s 2018 hit play Emilia brought her to a new audience; and Elizabeth Cary, a child prodigy who went on to become the author of the first published play by a woman in English, despite having 11 children. These women and their writings are not unknown, but to see their individual and occasionally interwoven stories set out side by side is to understand with greater clarity that, while Woolf was not wrong about the obstacles faced by female writers, she was mistaken about the quality and reception of their work.

Most striking in Targoff’s account is the way the women had to accommodate a world of male expectations and bend their way around it in order to make their voices heard. Mary Sidney used her famous brother as a foil, slipping her own earliest work into print under cover of his name. When Elizabeth Cary was newly married and her husband, Henry, went abroad to fight in the Netherlands, Elizabeth’s mother had someone else write to Henry on his wife’s behalf, lest the evidence of Elizabeth’s ferocious intelligence put him off; Elizabeth’s play, The Tragedy of Mariam, was published with only her initials on the title page, to conceal her identity.

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PHYLLIS WHEELER: ‘SECRET OF THE LOST DRAGONS’–SELAH AWARD FINALIST! ·

(from Phyllis Wheeler, friend of Marit Literary and Stage Voices)

In the news! Secret of the Lost Dragons, Book 2 of my Guardians of Time series, has been named a finalist in the prestigious Selah Awards for Christian Fiction, 2023. Book One, The Dog Snatcher, also received this distinction in the previous year.

Find Secret of the Lost Dragons in the Chapter Books category: https://www.facebook.com/TheSelahAwards/posts/pfbid02hA1Qpx5BxbHixGciQwgVP39r975hJzXXA7dD3HC6rdtWzjSxgtj2kLK5bfFdMrowl

Rejoice with Phyllis!

‘THE KALEVALA’  (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4–IN OUR TIME–DISCUSSION PROGRAM) ·

THE KALEVALA

Listen now

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Finnish epic poem that first appeared in print in 1835 in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland, part of the Russian Empire and until recently part of Sweden. The compiler of this epic was a doctor, Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), who had travelled the land to hear traditional poems about mythical heroes being sung in Finnish, the language of the peasantry, and writing them down in his own order to create this landmark work. In creating The Kalevala, Lönnrot helped the Finns realise they were a distinct people apart from Sweden and Russia, who deserved their own nation state and who came to demand independence, which they won in 1917. With Riitta Valijärvi Associate Professor in Finnish and Minority Languages at University College London Thomas Dubois The Halls-Bascom Professor of Scandinavian Folklore and Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison And Daniel Abondolo Formerly Reader in Hungarian at University College

London Producer: Simon Tillotson

 

OPINION: REMEMBRANCE AND TREACHERY SIDE-BY-SIDE IN TODAY’S UKRAINE ·

(Andriy Kurkov’s article appeared in the Kyiv Post, 3/24.  Photo: Candles are displayed on letters reading the word “Children” in Russian language during a commemorative event to mark the first anniversary of the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, held in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on March 16, 2023. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP)

Across Ukraine theaters that were once places of joy and entertainment have become memorials to one of the largest tragedies experienced during Russia’s war on Kyiv.

In many Ukrainian cities, people gaze sadly at almost every theater, in front of which the word “Children” is written in large letters often with candles burning next to the inscription.

Two years ago, on March 16, a Russian bomber attacked the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol in which hundreds of citizens, including children, were sheltering. On the asphalt outside, the word “children” was written in huge letters, especially intended to alert Russian pilots of their presence. But it did not prevent the destruction of the theater and the murder of the innocent people inside.

In memory of all the civilians who died in Mariupol, on March 16 this year, actors who had escaped from the city painted the word “children” in front of the theater in Uzhhorod where they now live and work.

This date is not an official day of remembrance, included in the state calendar of memorial events. This might be understandable, as there are now so many tragic dates that almost every day could be one of mourning. But some events should be remembered and kept in the public eye, even as Russia commits more crimes.

Ukrainians themselves took to the streets to honor the memory of soldiers and volunteers murdered by Russia in the Olenevka prisoner of war camp, on July 29, 2022, and to remember the victims of the bombing and shelling of residential buildings in Vinnytsia, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa.

Odesa residents will now have another day of mourning on their calendar – March 15. Among the 21 dead and more than 45 injured in the missile attack, just last week, were many police officers and rescue workers. City officials who went to the scene of devastation were also killed. The mayor of the city, Gennady Trukhanov, who was once considered to be a pro-Russian politician, was almost killed.

Another mayor who before the war was considered pro-Russian is Yuri Vilkul – the mayor of President Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih. Today he heads the city’s military administration doing everything possible to protect Kryvyi Rih from Russian attacks.

There are no pro-Russian politicians left in Ukraine, but it seems that there are still some ordinary citizens who, for money or because of pro-Russian beliefs, pass information to the Russian army.

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‘THE FREAKS CAME OUT TO WRITE’ REVIEW – HOW THE VILLAGE VOICE CHANGED AMERICAN JOURNALISM ·

(Peter Conrad’s article appeared in the Observer, 2/27.)

Tricia Romano’s entertaining oral history of the radical New York newspaper is an elegy to a rough and ready era of punch-ups and passion

Midway between the glitz of Times Square and the grind of Wall Street, Greenwich Village used to be New York’s ulterior zone, a refuge for artists and agitators, dropouts and sexual dissidents. With the New York Times established as the city’s greyly official almanac, in 1955 this bohemian enclave acquired its own parochial weekly, the Village Voice. The rowdy, raucous Voice deserved its name, and now, following its closure in 2018 (it has since been revived as a quarterly), it has an appropriately oral history. The collage of interviews in The Freaks Came Out to Write extends from the paper’s idealistic beginnings to its tawdry decline, when it scavenged for funds by running sleazy ads for massage parlours.

The Voice’s origins were proudly amateurish. One early contributor was a homeless man recruited from a local street; equipment consisted of two battered typewriters, an ink-splattering mimeograph machine and a waste paper basket for rejected submissions. Morale spiked when a staff member discovered that dried pods used in fancy flower arrangements contained opium, which was boiled up in the office when the time came for a coffee break. Editorial standards hardly matched the pedantic correctness of the New YorkerNorman Mailer, a columnist for a while, loudly berated a Voice copytaker who mistook “nuance” for “nuisance” and ordered the cowering menial to “take your thumb out of your asshole!”

The Village’s voices were journalists of a new kind, flashy and often crazily quirky

Behaviour like this was the rule at the ungenteel Voice. An investigative reporter joined forces with teenage gangs on looting expeditions, and during a riot at Tompkins Square in the East Village another journalist relished the wet but effective weaponry used by squatters, who bagged their own urine, added donations from stray cats, and dropped the plastic sacks from rooftops on to the police below. “Cops will run away from cat urine,” we’re assured. “It’s a lot better than a gun.”

At the New York Times, someone else reflects, people stabbed you in the back, whereas the more upfront writers at the Voice aimed for the chest. Notoriously competitive, contributors denounced one another in abusive slogans scrawled on the walls of the office toilet. Occasionally there were punch-ups in the newsroom. “You may kick my ass,” the music critic Stanley Crouch warned a colleague, “but I’m going to hurt you.” If pinioned to prevent him from using his fists, Crouch savaged his opponents with his teeth instead. A battle of the sexes was fought more peaceably in an exchange of epithets. Mailer snarled that the Voice’s feminist contributors wrote “like very tough faggots”; one of the women snapped back by denouncing Mailer and the jazz critic Nat Hentoff as “old-school male fuckheads” or “absolute oppositional pieces of shit”.

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EXILED CHINESE ARTIST AI WEIWEI: ‘CENSORSHIP IN WEST EXACTLY THE SAME AS MAO’S CHINA’ ·

(from Sky News)

The 66-year-old dissident told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that “society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument.

 “Today I see so many people by giving their basic opinions, they get fired, they get censored. This has become very common.”

Read more: https://news.sky.com/story/exiled-chi… #censorship #weiwei #skynews

UKRAINE WARTIME MEMOIR AND PLAY NAVIGATES LOSS AND PRESERVING MEMORY OF FALLEN SOLDIERS (VIDEO) ·

(Kate Tsurkan’s article appeared in the Lyiv Independent, 12/30; Photo:  LVIV, UKRAINE – NOVEMBER 1: Graves of Ukrainian soldiers during the memorial day at the Lychakiv military cemetery on November 1, 2023 in Lviv, Ukraine. On November 1, Ukrainians mark the memorial day. The memory of fallen soldiers was honored at the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv. People leave flowers and candles on the graves. (Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images; Below: Watch the play, produced at Molodyi Teatr London.)

A historian by profession who has studied war for over a decade, Olesya Khromeychuk found her research spilling over into real life when her older brother Volodymyr was killed in 2017 near Popasna in Luhansk Oblast, nearly two years into his military service.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, which began in 2014, had mostly disappeared from international headlines by then, and “most Western Europeans did not even remember that there was a war raging in Eastern Europe.”

However, for the majority of Ukrainians, terms such as shelling, bombing, captivity, casualty, and war crimes have become more than just words in history books. These terms have increasingly encapsulated their reality over the past decade.

“The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister,” Khromeychuk’s memoir, which was written mostly before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, is a reflection not only on the loss of a family member.

The book’s core delves into a profoundly personal experience of loss during the war in Ukraine. However, thanks to Khromeychuk’s strength, openness, and vulnerability, it also serves as a compass for navigating grief within an ever more conflict-ridden world.

The exact number of Ukrainian soldiers that have been killed since Russia launched its all-out war is unknown, but nearly every cemetery in the country has a section dedicated to the soldiers who have given their lives to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression.

As the prospect of a long-term war drags on, and more people are called up to serve on the front line, Ukraine is faced with questions of how, as a society, to mourn and commemorate the fallen.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is typically a personal journey. The lives of those who outlive them become divided into periods of “before” and “after” their death and the impact of this loss is not necessarily something that one wishes to divulge to just anyone.

However, when a life is taken during a war, loss inevitably transcends the personal realm. It becomes a collective grief felt by the nation and requires navigating sometimes surreal experiences accompanying such a tragedy. As Khromeychuk describes it, “there is nothing natural, nothing normal about death in a war.”

A poignant example of this in the memoir is how the public obituaries written for her brother deviated from who he really was. “If reality didn’t make it into the obituaries, then what does?” she wonders.

Given his previous military experience, Volodymyr Pavliv didn’t wait to be summoned for service. He volunteered to fight in the Donbas because he saw the Russian invasion as “a European war that just happened to start in Eastern Ukraine,” as he told his sister before his death.

Pavliv had been residing in the Netherlands beforehand, working as a laborer. After his death, the Ukrainian media portrayed him as a man who had given up his privileged life in the West to return and defend his homeland, mythologizing his decision. And yet, as Khromeychuk points out, the life of Ukrainian migrant workers is often anything but privileged.

Khromeychuk also writes about how she dealt with the layers of bureaucracy leading up to her brother’s funeral by writing down each task in the kind of small notepad she’d normally take with her on a research trip. Instead of conducting trips to archives or interviews, her tasks included visiting the morgue and picking a restaurant for the wake after the funeral service.

On the day of the funeral in Lviv, the church was filled not only with Pavliv’s loved ones but also with soldiers and members of the public. Khromeychuk and her family could not yet mourn him privately, something that was underscored by the presence of the media.

“They seemed to be everywhere: filming, taking photos. Part of me felt sorry for them: how do you find a good angle and decent light, in order to get good footage of a funeral in a gloomy old church?” she writes.

“But mostly I felt annoyed. With their lights and cameras, they were turning one of the most intimate moments–a final farewell–into something that resembled a theater show. I knew it was their job, but the last thing my family and I needed was to be filmed as we were being torn to pieces by grief.”

At the cemetery, the defiant wartime slogan “Heroes never die!” echoed among the crowd. While Khromeychuk acknowledges the sincerity and meaningfulness of the sentiment behind this powerful phrase, she confesses having dreaded that moment, feeling an overwhelming urge to shout: “Stop! He is dead! They’re about to put him in a grave!”

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CARY GRANT: THE MAN WE THOUGHT WE KNEW ·

Cary Grant was considered one of the world’s best-known movie stars, but it turns out there was plenty that audiences did not know about the debonair actor. In fact, he was born in England as Archibald Leach, and grew up impoverished and neglected, before finding his way to the U.S. and transforming into the silver screen star we know as Cary Grant. The BritBox series “Archie” explores the actor’s complicated past. Correspondent Seth Doane talks with actor Jason Isaacs, who plays Grant, as well as Grant’s fourth wife, actress Dyan Cannon, who is a producer of the series. #carygrant #archie “CBS News Sunday Morning” features stories on the arts, music, nature, entertainment, sports, history, science and Americana, and highlights unique human accomplishments and achievements. Check local listings for CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast times.

Read Cary Grant’s Recollections, along with seeing the new series:

From Kirkus Reviews

“Forget the other books. This is it. Superb.”

Review

Forget the other books, this is it. Superb. –Kirkus Reviews

Here’s a book as charming and likable as its subject and that’s saying a lot. –Booklist

The biography Cary Grant deserves . . . This is the standout Grant biography that should remain as his testament in print. –The Philadelphia Inquirer

“For a book about Grant that’s almost as much fun as his films, this is the genuine article.” ––Variety

“I adored Cary Grant—and I couldn’t put this wonderful book down. I read it in one sitting!” —Carol Burnett

“The first book about the real Cary—lively, warm, always entertaining, totally honest—like the man himself. —Gregory Peck

“It’s a funny, lovely book about Cary.” —Katharine Hepburn

“A charmer of a book. You’ll love spending Evenings with Cary Grant.” —Sidney Sheldon

“This wonderful book gives behind-the-scenes examples of an actor who was dedicated to the art of motion pictures and to the profession of acting.” —James Stewart

“Nancy Nelson has definitely captured the essence of CG in her wonderful book.” —Robert Wagner

“This delightful book gives everyone a chance to spend some time with that delightful person—Cary Grant.” —Helen Hayes

“It embraces the Cary Grant I knew and loved.” —Burt Reynold s “A truly wonderful book about a truly wonderful man.” —Liza Minnelli

“As one of the world’s great raconteurs, Cary Grant knew how to spin a yarn, tell a naughty joke, or shape a thoughtful observation. Thank God readers everywhere can now enjoy the company of this remarkable man.” —Jack Haley, Jr.

“In this book you will discover the real Cary Grant, and you will love him even more.” —John Forsythe

“An absolute treasure . . . the only authentic history of his life and loves . . . Reading this book will leave you with the feeling that you have just embraced the warm and wonderful Cary Grant. He was much more than a movie star. He was a magnificent man.” —Abigail (Dear Abby) Van Buren

“A celebration of a life well lived. Thank goodness there is a Nancy Nelson to tell the world about this beautiful human being we knew and loved.” —Jill St. John

A kind and gentle . . . shows the private man who doted on his daughter, lamented his failed marriages and could be as contemplative as he was comic.” –Baltimore Sun

The biography Cary Grant deserves . . . This is the standout Grant biography that should remain as his testament in print. –The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

BARBRA STREISAND’S MOTHER OF ALL MEMOIRS ·

(Rachel Syme’s article appeaed in The New Yorker, 11/14/2023. Photo: Trust is a big theme in the book, and perhaps its reason for existing. Photograph by Irving Penn / © Condé Nast) 

 

In “My Name Is Barbra,” the icon takes a maximalist approach to her own life, studying every trial, triumph, and snack food of a six-decade career. 

Seventy years ago, before she was galactically famous, before she dropped an “a” from her first name, before she was a Broadway ingénue, before her nose bump was aspirational, before she changed the way people hear the word “butter,” before she was a macher or a mogul or a decorated matron of the arts, Barbra Streisand was, by her own admission, “very annoying to be around.” She was born impatient and convinced of her potential—the basic ingredients of celebrity, and of an exquisitely obnoxious child. When Streisand was growing up in Brooklyn, in the nineteen-forties, she used to crawl onto the fire escape of her shabby apartment building and conduct philosophical debates with her best friend, Rosyln Arenstein, who was a staunch atheist. One day, Streisand told Arenstein that she was going to prove the existence of God. She pointed at a man on the street and said that, if she prayed hard enough, he would step off the curb. Within seconds, he obliged. “I had two thoughts at that moment,” Streisand writes in her hulking new memoir, “My Name Is Barbra” (Viking). “One: Whew, that was lucky! And two: There is a God, and I just got Him to do what I wanted by praying. I guess that’s when I began to believe in the power of the will.”

Streisand was always willful. She was not always lucky. Her father, a gentle academic named Emanuel, died from seizure complications when she was a year old. Her mother, Diana, could be cruel and strangely absent, particularly after she married Louis Kind, a man who seemed to resent Streisand’s existence. “I was like a wild child, a kind of animal,” Streisand writes. “There was no routine and no rules.” She shoplifted and stole Kind’s cigarettes, which she smoked on the roof. She developed chronic tinnitus, possibly because of stress, and kept the ringing in her ears a secret for years. “I long for silence,” she writes. But, despite these challenges, Streisand also knew that she was in possession of something rare. She could sing, naturally and effortlessly, with a broad, sunny tone and cataract force. Streisand took exactly one singing lesson and never learned how to read music. She simply accepted herself as gifted, with the same conviction that made her believe she could speak to God.

Because Streisand’s instrument was innate, she also found it rather boring. She joined the Choral Club at Erasmus Hall High School, in Flatbush, but what she really wanted to be was an actress. She would often go to the Astor Theatre, next door to Erasmus, to watch films by Akira Kurosawa, and to the Kings Theatre to see melodramas starring Deborah Kerr and Marlon Brando. (The great motif of this book, besides fame, is snacks, and Streisand is particularly nostalgic about Good & Plenty candy, which she likens to “eating jewelry” in the theatre.) In English class, she produced book reports on Stanislavsky’s “My Life in Art” and “An Actor Prepares.” She also got a job at the Cherry Lane Theatre, where she watched a production of the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey’s “Purple Dust.” She learned a lead role and proclaimed herself an understudy—though nobody had asked her to do this—and would greet the stagehands with “Top o’ the mornin’ to you, boys!” in an Irish accent. (“Again,” she writes, “annoying to be around.”)

Streisand was obsessed with acting because she saw it as a form that allowed for spontaneity and change. She was dismayed to learn, in a class that she took at fourteen, about the concept of blocking, in which an actor is expected to repeat her motions every time she runs through a scene. “You mean you have to move in exactly the same way, to the same spots?” she asked her teacher. “Why?” (Soon after, she quit the class.) Throughout her career, she balked at the idea that self-expression should be stable or reproducible. One reason that Streisand leaned into her musical prowess—she graduated high school at sixteen, moved to Manhattan, and soon started performing in a gay bar and a night club—was that concert audiences loved her elasticity. To this day, she prefers to sing a song differently each time.

The great paradox of Streisand’s career, then, is that as a person she has been nearly impervious to change. “No matter who you are,” she writes, “you can only eat one pastrami sandwich at a time.” Her point is that fame is a “hollow trophy”; she still thinks of herself, at eighty-one, as the “skinny marink” from Brooklyn. This assertion is tough to take from a woman who could, if she wanted, have every pastrami sandwich in New York delivered to her Malibu estate on a private jet, but I’m inclined to believe her. Streisand has spent her career, which spans fifty-plus albums, more than a dozen movies in starring roles, three films as a director, and a bushel of awards (an honorary egot, along with three Peabodys, eleven Golden Globes, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom), trying to protect the person she always was: a girl who, somehow, knew how to trust herself.

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FATHER OF SELF-EXILED BELARUSIAN WRITER JAILED FOR REPOSTING ARTICLE ·

(From Radio Free Europe, 11/10; Photo of Sasha Filipenka, from Radio Free Europe.)

Self-exiled Belarusian writer Sasha Filipenka told RFE/RL on November 10 that a Minsk court sentenced his father to 13 days in jail for reposting an article by the Zerkalo (Mirror) website that the government has labeled as extremist. Filipenka wrote on Facebook earlier that police detained his father on November 9 and that it is “obvious that they are putting pressure on me and want me to stop talking to the European media.” The 39-year-old writer is the author of several books for which he has received literary prizes. He fled Belarus after he took part in anti-government protests in 2020. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, click here. 

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