Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Webbing" by Ian Frazier

A typically bland New Yorker-style story is invaded by quite another type of story in this comic skit. The all-American backyard suburban barbecue may never be the same again. Read by Scoot.

From Hudson, Ohio to Manhattan to Montana, Ian Frazier has found ripe material for his own style of humor, which has more than a dash of Jarryesque absurdity to it, wherever he goes. Naturally, he publishes frequently in The New Yorker, but he could sometimes just as well be publishing in the avant-garde Parisian reviews of 1900 or in punk fanzines of the 1980s or in the hyper-hypertextual world of 2010. If he invents an effective time machine, he might be doing all just that soon. Or already has. No doubt you'll see his books everywhere you go now you've read this.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum" by P. G. Wodehouse

Mauve shirts. The Sporting Times. A place called Pounceby Gardens. Another place, a tea-and-bun shop near the Ritz. Valets, horse-racing, and and an attack of the gout. Obviously, we're in Bertie and Jeeves territory. How utterly British of us. Right-o, old chap, carry on. Read by Timothy Wagner.

Even today Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse epitomizes certain conceptions of upper-class England in the 1920s, though he continued building his reputation for several decades after that. The well-known humorist also wrote several other "story cycles" and innumerable novels, plays, lyrics, and "stand-alone" short stories. We like what the "P. G. Wodehouse Appreciation Page" has to say about the great satirist: "Throughout his stories, Wodehouse presents a view of the world which differs from -- his fans would say, improves upon -- the focus most people have. For a variety of reasons, pigs, newts, and statues of the Infant Samuel at Prayer play significant roles in the Wodehousian view, while such things as death, taxes, and work are crowded towards the O. P. wings."

Timothy Wagner is an actor, artist, and academician who will soon be teaching in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany. Perhaps not unlike Bertie Wooster, he is a great enthusiast of the theater, a discerning balletomane, and an ardent bibliophile who also follows the opera world and the torrid, tragic lives of divas both young and dead. Alas, he is merely American, a native of Maryland--but we'll forgive him that. After all, none of us is British here!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"The Passion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race" by Alfred Jarry

Be prepared for some delightful blasphemy this solstice day, although one could also say that this wildly imaginative retelling of the Christian "passion" may be far from Mel Gibson's, but oddly respectful, all the same. Only Alfred Jarry could have combined his lust for bicycling with the "Greatest Story Ever Told" -- the greatest, that is, perhaps, until this one! Read by Scoot.

Some interesting facts about Alfred Jarry: The second run of his iconoclastic play, Ubu Roi, was done with marionettes. He loved wearing gaucho pants and a paper shirt with a painted tie. He lived between two floors of his apartment house (if you've seen Being John Malkovich, a movie that had to have been inspired in part by Jarry's brand of absurdity, you'll know what we mean). He indulged in absinthe, opium, and shooting pistols at random in the busy streets of Paris. He once painted himself completely green. He founded the science of 'Pataphysics, without which Zippy the Pinhead would be lost. All before he died at 34 in 1907. Oh, yes, and he was also a writer whose fierce satirism and bewildering rule-breaking have yet to be rivalled.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

"Poldi" by Carson McCullers

Everything one could hope for in a story by Carson McCullers--sensitive characters in sensitive circumstances, set against a backdrop of classical music. Poldi, a budding cellist, captures the hopeless young heart of impressionable Hans. Read by Jonathan Strong.

"She dignified the individual, especially life's losers." So said the New York Times about the writer from Columbus, Georgia whose characters, such as Frankie in The Member of the Wedding or Mick Kelly from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, are self-appointed "losers" adrift in a world they are perhaps too sensitive to forgive. Like Flannery O'Conner (whose works are in some ways similar) she died young--but we won't say Carson McCullers died totally unfulfilled, for she left behind beautiful novels and heartrending short stories that live on through the world's readers.

Jonathan Strong, the author of nearly a dozen novels (most recently published being A Circle Around Her), lives surrounded by eight thousand classical lp records. He is currently working on a novel about an opera singer at the end of her career, tentatively titled Obscurity. Look up his books at your local bookstore, on the dreaded Amazon, or elsewhere!