Thursday, June 30, 2011

Murder So Foul in Norway

I just finished up Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman (that’s Nesbo with a slashed o). It’s a mystery thriller set in Oslo, featuring Detective Harry Hole as the bad-boy cop—an alcoholic, lustful, independent cuss but also a man with, of course, honor. He’s a noir prototype, and Nesbo doesn’t push the crime genre boundaries in his Hole series. When I pick up a Nesbo thriller, I read it to experience a police procedural in a Norwegian setting. Of course, I also read it to try and solve the mystery before the authorities do. Yeah, I solved it, but the clues were obvious. Nesbo provides the red herrings and twists, but his central conceit, the snowman, disappoints. It's quite a haunting image, but the snowman feats the perp concocts are almost impossible to accomplish. Rating: three out of five stars.

And this brings me round to what I’ve been pondering today on my deck: I read mysteries as entertainment, which means I read them quickly. (Think grilled bratwurst instead of lamb on a spit.) Nonetheless, as many as I finish, there are probably just as many that I don’t. If the writing is too dreadful, the characters too dull, I put the book back in a pile for the library drop box. Life is too short to adhere to any work ethic that requires finishing what you start. So I ask myself, why do I bother to read genre fiction at all? Why not stick to great novels—for a masterly one captures your imagination and your heart, and it stays with you, long after turning the last page. One possible answer is that I’ve become a multi-task reader. I want to simultaneously use my imagination and my analytical skills, and novels without mystery often don't allow me to do so. (The multi-tasking also explains why there’s always more than one book on my bedside table.) And, as a self-exiled ivy-tower type, I no longer write essays to satisfy my urge to analyze, so perhaps mysteries fill that void. That said, I feel it’s time to tackle some Tolstoy. But first, I want to prop my feet up and raise my ice-cold glass in a toast to Norwegian snow. Skal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Tony Awards Put on a Good Spectacle, BUT...

I don’t wish to bash the Tony awards from my deck chair, for awards can serve to recognize excellence (notice I say “can” instead of “do,” for nominating committees are not always savvy observers and thinkers). But if the New York theatre establishment wishes to remain Command Central for US theatre, the televised awards need to do more than the usual song and dance routine.

Consider the Tony’s LA counterpart, the Oscar. That program broadcasts scenes from the nominated films, showcasing the acting nominees. Granted, a theater performance is a live construct while a film performance is easily captured for eternity on, well, film. Still, it seems to me that if the producers are willing to spend a fortune on production numbers, why not spend a few bucks on re-enacting short scenes from the plays? It might mean that the nominees can’t spend the whole evening sitting in the audience in tuxes and gowns, but it gives them a chance to show off what it is they hopefully do: really act. I know, I know—add such scenes and the evening will spin out into the wee hours of Monday. But surely musical numbers can be trimmed—especially the emcee routines.

Which brings me around to what I’m really wondering: how did the Tonys and the Oscars become vehicles for the emcee? Come on, folks. We watch the ceremonies to study the nominees and discover the winners—who hopefully speak no longer than a minute THANKING people instead of gushing on about politics, philosophy and/or attained wisdom. That said, returning to Sunday’s telecast--how does the emcee number “It’s Not for Gays Anymore” serve Command Central? Plenty of potential visitors to the Big Apple arrive from the fly-over kingdom. For them, “Aren’t we wonderfully liberal” slogans can be a real turn off. (Yes, really—and it isn’t because they aren’t enlightened individuals. Many simply prefer their theatrical experiences to be moments of discovery instead of blatant propaganda.) So Neil Patrick Harris’s number, even though well-hoofed, decreases the chances of busing the Heartland in to Broadway. And that defeats the whole point of an awards program, doesn’t it? Drumming up new business? Making that next buck? Or I should say, C-notes?

Signing off with a refreshment,
Your Deck Devotee

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Open Season

The deck is now open for the season, thanks to a patio heater.  Observations therefrom are coming soon to the internet provider nearest you.