Thursday, March 31, 2011

Choosing to disagree

I’ve often bitten the bait tossed out by book reviewers. I’ve read the ones they praised and often been very disappointed. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo come immediately to mind.  Now I’ve become wary of theatre reviewers.  Only this time, I’ve seen previews of plays before they officially opened and I was, therefore, able to form an opinion without being swayed by New York critics and those of other newspapers.  I’ve come instead to critiquing their reviews.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert  (notice the missing comma) opened in New York recently at the huge Palace Theatre.  From the  venue alone you know it’s going to be presented as a crowd -pleaser, a draw for tourists.  Based on the movie about three Australian men who perform as drag queens, the play is full of disco music, outlandish costumes, unbelievable sets and moments of hilarity, sensitivity and tenderness, too.  I really enjoyed it because I accepted it for what it is.  It’s not Stephen Sondheim or Rodgers and Hammerstein.    The theatre critic for the New Yorker called it “demented and brain dead.”  No equivocating there!

Then I went to see the revival of That Championship Season,  the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Jason Miller.  The all-star cast is probably one of the reasons the limited run is practically sold out:  Brian Cox, Chris Noth, Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric (the playwright’s son) and Jim Gaffigan.  Because it is set in 1972 at the 20th reunion of a basketball team and their coach, the plot involves the contemporary issues of that time.  So if it is racist and anti-Semitic, the audience may gasp and be shocked but it accepts it as part of that era.  When one of the coach’s heroes is Sen. Joseph McCarthy, we know we’re in a very different time. So, when a critic says it is dated, I say, of course it is.  So are all the other revivals that come to Broadway each year.

When I was younger, I think I was less discriminating, tending to accept more readily the views of “experts.”  Now, I find it very invigorating to dissect the reasons why I do or do not enjoy certain books and plays.  It also makes great conversation to hear the views of friends who may or may not agree.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

When my grandson Ian was four, he began to say “I amn’t” for “I am not.” It intrigued me that a child would know instinctively how to make a contraction that he had not heard before.

His contraction made sense, I thought.  If the plural of “are not” is “aren’t” is it not perfectly logical that the singular of “am not” be “amn’t”?

When I saw that James Joyce used the word in The Dubliners, I assumed it was an “old” word. But I was surprised to learn that it is still used mainly in Ireland and Scotland.

Perhaps my Irish cousins will enlighten me on this.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"

Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.
—W. B. Yeats
from "Adam's Curse"

On this St. Patrick’s Day, let us toast all the great Irish writers who have enriched our literature: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey, John Millington Synge, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, Lady Gregory, Oliver Goldsmith, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bowen, Roddy Doyle, William Trevor, Frank O’Connor, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Edna O’Brien, Frank McCourt, Seamus Heaney, John Banville, Anne Enright, Colum McCann and the list goes on.

And let us not forget the writers, journalists, playwrights and screenwriters of Irish descent: Pete Hamill, Mary Gordon, Michael Harrington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Terrence McNally, Cormac McCarthy and the list goes on and on and on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Just as I was thinking of a topic for this week’s blog, seven-year-old Maeve asked me if I knew what onomatopoeia words were.  Tell me, I answered, trying to recall a high school English lesson. 

Maeve then rattled off a list of onomatopoeia words taught that day in her first grade classroom: zip, boom, squish, oink and hee-haw. Onomatopoeia words sound like what they are describing - words that make noise, she explained.

I think it is terrific that first-graders here in Cedar Grove (and, I hope, elsewhere) are learning about onomatopoeia.  I went to my bookcase and checked in a couple of college handbooks but onomatopoeia was nowhere to be found.

I still have a copy of Crowell’s Hand book for Readers and Writers,  published in 1925 that my mother referred to quite often. It defines onomatopoeia as “Primarily the forming of words to suggest by their sound the object or idea presented as buzz, hiss, clack, bang, twitter.”

The Handbook pages are somewhat yellow and the cover needs repair, but I intend to someday present it to Maeve (who, incidentally, says she wants to be a writer.)

I would love to hear some of your favorite onomatopoeia words.  You can click on any number of websites, zap me your list via email, or give me a buzz.