Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Best New Books of 2014: Sharon S’s Picks

December 12, 2014

It is said that “Truth is stranger than fiction,” and to me it is just as interesting. I read fiction and nonfiction for the same reasons: to be entertained, instructed, and inspired. Here are my favorite new books for this year:

Pastor Needs a BooPastor Needs a Boo by Michele Andrea Bowen
A former FBI agent as well as a dedicated pastor, Denzelle Flowers of New Jerusalem Church in Durham got burned on the romance scene when his wife left him for a richer man. When the perfect Proverbs 31 woman shows up in his life he’s not ready to admit it, even though everyone else sees that she’s the one for him. Meanwhile, Pastor Denzelle decides to run for bishop, and has to pack both his gun and his Bible as major corruption sweeps through their denomination.

What Makes Olga Run?What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson
What makes a 93-year-old woman participate in track events worldwide, and set records that compare (in her age category) with those of the best athletes in the world? Well, she loves doing it, and her ability to do it stretches our stereotypes about aging. She is not alone—there are other “super seniors” like her around the world. Bruce Grierson leads us through a fascinating investigation of what keeps them going strong. See my full review.

William Shakespeare's Star WarsWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher
Hang on to your lightsabers! Doescher cleverly conflates famous lines from Shakespeare with famous scenes from Star Wars, making for a blend of comedy and drama worthy of the Bard himself. What I like best is getting to see into the minds of the characters through the asides and soliloquys. The series is continued in The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return. My family and I have been reading it aloud to each other (my husband plays the role of Chewbacca, and my 12-year-old son plays R2D2). See my full review.

Life is a WheelLife is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride Across America by Bruce Weber
The death of his parents and other major changes shook Weber up and gave him a lot to think about concerning life, love, and death. It didn’t help matters that he had spent the last three years of his middle-aged life writing obituaries for The New York Times. He decided to do something to prove to himself that he was still alive and kicking — bike across America! I love books like this, where someone decides to do something semi-crazy, and I can go along for the ride without the expense or the sore leg muscles! Based on the daily blogs he sent back to the newspaper, this book is a very entertaining and interesting read.

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on CaesarThe Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow
One reason I like to read is to experience vicariously things I may never experience myself, or at least not in the same way. I love owls, and Martin Windrow gives me a window into what they are really like, close-up and personal. Mumbles is a charming little tawny owl who is nevertheless no pushover! I loved reading about her daily life, and her and Martin’s close relationship of many years. See my full review.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher

April 1, 2014

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily A New HopeI was sure this book was a spoof, but I was delightfully surprised to find that Ian Doescher’s play is a serious work of art. While recasting the original story in Shakespearean style, Doescher has retained both the humor and the pathos of the famous film.

This is a marriage of true minds because both Lucas and Shakespeare draw upon motifs deeply rooted in our culture. Luke is the idealistic young hero who benefits from the wisdom of the sage, yet must find his own way. The sparring couple, Han and Leia, call to mind Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Like Shakespeare’s plays, Star Wars also has fierce hand-to-hand combat, noble sacrifice, mistaken identity, and cold-hearted villainy.

As to the poetry, I thought it would sound ridiculously stilted to tell a sci-fi story in Elizabethan cadences, but surprisingly it does not. In fact, recasting Star Wars as a Shakespearean drama added a new level of meaning for me. The asides and soliloquies that Doescher adds flesh out the emotions and thought processes that are only hinted at in the movie. Take, for example, this soliloquy from Luke when he discovers the smoldering bodies of his aunt and uncle on Tatooine and tries to adjust his mind to his new destiny:

. . . Forward marches Fate, not the reverse.
So while I cannot wish for them to live,
I can my life commit unto their peace.
Thus shall I undertake to do them proud
And take whate’er adventure comes my way.
‘Tis now my burden, so I’ll wear it well,
And to the great Rebellion give my life.
A Jedi shall I be, in all things brave—
And thus shall they be honor’d in their grave.

As in the movie and in Shakespeare, this high drama is balanced by plenty of buffoonery and trading of colorful insults, as when C3PO expostulates with R2-D2: “Be not thou technical with me, / Or else thine input valve may swift receive / A hearty helping of my golden foot.” Sometimes the humor originates in well-known Shakespearean lines recast by Doescher, as when Luke and Han examine the instrument panel of the Milennium Falcon:

LUKE: . . . What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?
HAN: It marks the loss of yon deflector shield.
I bid thee, peace! Now sit and thou take heed,
For all’s prepared to jump unto lightspeed.

For those who love both Star Wars and the Bard, this play is a treat. Prithee, read it now, and thou shalt yearn / For The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return!

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Macbeth by William Shakespeare

February 11, 2014

In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the drama is presented with stark economy. The intensity of the play – the turmoil, the treachery, the succession battles, and the general blood bath – embraces the audience like a feverish nightmare that is nearly impossible to wake up from. And when it is all over the play lingers – as it has done, no doubt, since its first performance in 1606.

Shakespeare’s tale was inspired by a regicide and other events in 11th-century Scotland. What actually took place and what is legend is difficult to know for certain;  at least in detail. However, the general tendencies of the era are less vague. Emerging ideas of national unity and kingship were competing with civil disorder caused by battles for power among local warlords, and struggles over succession often resulted in ruthless wars.

In the play, Macbeth is initially a loyal general to king Duncan. But after being flattered by three witches and their auguring, and his own wife, Macbeth becomes convinced that murdering the king and taking over the throne is the right thing to do. Blinded by ambition and narcissism, Macbeth gets involved in one murderous act after another, seemingly unable to put a stop to the slayings, and the paranoia and suspicions of political power take over life in the court. It becomes clear that there is only one way out for Macbeth, and that way can be found at the end of a sword.

Typically for Shakespeare (and his time), the audience is offered a reassuring conclusion in which a just political authority triumphs. The kings who attended the world premiere, King James I of England and King Christian of Denmark, would have been well pleased with the finale. But the play does ask some unnerving questions about the price of power, and they remain valid to this day.

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Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

May 13, 2011

Did you love Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth?  If so, this book will satisfy your need for another good, thick, medieval tome.  The author, Ildefonso Falcones, is a lawyer in Barcelona.  This debut novel, translated from Spanish, was a bestseller in Spain.  The story focuses primarily on Arnau Estanyol, a good man trying to make his way in a tough world.  His father fled to Barcelona with young Arnau hoping for a better life.  As a runaway serf, his hope was to take advantage of Barcelona’s law that allows anyone who lives in the city for one year and a day to become a free citizen.

Life in Barcelona during the 1300’s is far from a bed of roses and Arnau and his father barely manage to survive.  They adopt Joan, a young boy from the streets who Arnau has become fast friends with.  The boys share a strong bond which becomes even stronger when Arnau’s father dies and they have to fend for themselves.  As they reach adulthood, their paths diverge;  Arnau becomes a stone carrier or “bastaixo” and carries the stones used to build the Cathedral of the Sea and  Joan starts on the path to the priesthood.

After many twists and turns, Arnau becomes a successful businessman and Joan becomes an inquisitor for the Catholic Church.  Because Arnau has a heart for people and tries to change his world for the better, he becomes a favorite with the common man and an enemy of the aristocracy and the Church.  Events ultimately come to a head and Arnau and his adopted brother Joan square off in a fascinating battle.

While Cathedral does not provide the architectural details that Pillars does, it does paint a detailed portrait of what life in 14th century Spain was like, set amidst much family drama.

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