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Charles S. Houser (Binghamton, NY)

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The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative
The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative
by Frank Kermode
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.09
16 used & new from CDN$ 5.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary look at the Gospel of Mark, July 8 2004
Kermode makes no bones about the fact that his interest in the Gospel of Mark is literary--not doctrinal, historical, or theological. These lectures from the late 1970s are still fresh and insightful. And they are as much an exploration of what it means to interpret a literary work as they are an examination of the Evangelist's text and methods. To do so he takes side-trips into Shakespeare, Joyce, Kafka, as well as into a little-known novel by Henry Green ("Party Going"). These are not idle excursions; Kermode's lectures are eloquent and tightly reasoned. In the end, his position is philosophical rather than aesthetic for he asserts that to live is to interpret. "We glimpse the secrecy through the meshes of the text; this is divination, but what is divined is what is visible from our angle.... When we come to relate [the] part to the whole, the divined glimmer to the fire we suppose to be its source, we see why Hermes is the patron of so many other trades besides interpretation. There has to be trickery. And we interpret always as transients--of whom he is also patron--both in the book and in the world which resembles the book. For the world is our beloved codex." And like all good philosphical writing, Kermode's lectures are worth studying closely and reading over and over again.

The Age of Shakespeare
The Age of Shakespeare
by Frank Kermode
Edition: Hardcover
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Surviving plagues, Puritans, and politics--the plays endure!, June 9 2004
This review is from: The Age of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
A few things come off very nicely in Kermode's "The Age of Shakespeare." What it lacks in detailed analysis of Shakespeare's poetry and dramaturgy, it makes up for by providing a sense of Shakespeare's time, the growth of theater in the 16th and 17th centuries (thanks, in part, to Mr. Shakespeare himself), and the many ways Shakespeare adapted his craft to suit evolving sensibilities. For the first time I appreciated Shakespeare as a business-person who used everything at his disposal in order to succeed at his chosen profession (or, at least, the one he ended up practicing after failing to find reliable patronage as a professional poet).
It is apt that this book is part of Modern Libary's Chronicle Book series, as chronolgoy is key here. Although scholars don't always know the exact sequence in which the plays were written, there seems to be enough of a consensus that Kermode can make some useful observations and generalizations. For instance, plays that were written for the Globe, a large outdoor theater, are different in some noticeable ways from the late Romance plays produced for the more intimate setting of the Blackfriars theater (with its higher-priced tickets that necessarily excluded groundlings). Such claims, of course, need to be tested by a careful rereading of the plays--in chronilogical order, rather than by genre or broad categories.
One warning, there are no plot summaries here. You pretty much need to be familiar with Shakespeare's plays in order to follow Kermode's arguments.
The book includes a brief "Bibliographical Note" to direct readers to other reliable resources on various aspects of life, religion, art, and theater in Shakespeare's time.

The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story
The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story
by Glenway Wescott
Edition: Paperback
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Upstairs, Downstairs in miniature, June 7 2004
This is an odd little book. The events take place in a single afternoon at the home of an American woman in France between the First and Second World Wars. The narrator, Alwyn Tower, and his hostess, Alexandra Henry, are visited by the Cullens, a middle-aged Irish couple. Mrs. Cullen has brought along her pet hawk Lucy whose presence dominates the remainder of the story (both symbolically and as another character). With its hood on, the hawk seems to represent the blindness of a class of wealthy internationals who live for food and fun, and who have made an uneasy peace with their captivity and lack of freedom.
Meanwhile, a trio of servants (Jean and Eva, the cooks; and Ricketts, the Cullens' chauffeur) plays yang to the aristocats' yin. For them, flirtation, jealousy, and passion are the defining mainstays of their existence. And they don't even need to turn to alcohol to release these life forces.
It's hard to know how seriously we are to take the narrator, a novelist twice failed in love. He is an astute observer and chronicler of the events, but his self-acknowledged failures as a writer certainly seem to justify the uncomfortable feelings he has toward Mrs. Cullen's captive carnivore. Although we know from page one that the Americans Alexandra and Alwyn would eventually return to America when tensions increase in Europe, at the novel's end it seems somewhat doubtful that either one will ever muster the energy needed to leave their perches in Alexandra's parlor.
This short novel has some of the biting class insights of Saki's better stories. Other than that, I find it hard to compare this book to any other I have ever read. Interesting in spite of and because of its brevity. Worth reading and rereading.

Ashton - The Dream / Ethan Stiefel, Alessandra Ferri, Herman Cornejo, American Ballet Theater
Ashton - The Dream / Ethan Stiefel, Alessandra Ferri, Herman Cornejo, American Ballet Theater
DVD ~ Pierce Brosnan
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 103.05
8 used & new from CDN$ 103.05

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great one-acter!, June 7 2004
I bought this DVD without realizing that it wasn't Balanchine's two-act "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (for that you need to purchase the DVD of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's wonderful performance). The confusion is logical, though. Both Ashton's "The Dream" and Balanchine's masterpiece were written in the early 60's (Ashton's in 1964, two years after the first performance of Balanchine's work) and both utilize a variety of instrumental and choral music composed by Mendelssohn. It would be hard to believe that Ashton never saw Balanchine's ballet (if he didn't, he certainly listened carefully to the reports of his ballet-world spies).
Both ballets are witty and respectful of their Shakespearian source. And both compress their storytelling to a single act (Balanchine tells the story in Act I and dedicates Act II to divertissements.) The confusion and rivalry of the two pairs of lovers (Helena and Demetrius; Hermia and Lysander) is amusingly extenuated in Balanchine's ballet; as is the story of Bottom's overnight conversion into an ass. But the pyrotechnics of the male leads (Oberon and Puck) takes center stage in Ashton's work. Steifel and Cornejo dance these parts brilliantly. And Titania (danced by Alessandra Ferri) is regal without being cold or spiteful (not quite the proto-feminist of Balanchine's ballet). Ashton's ballet has a sustained element of delight and never needs to resort to the tricks employed by Balanchine to dazzle the younger people in his audience (fog machines, cute ballet school students playing butterflies and fairies, and a cable to lift Puck skyward at the end of the ballet). Dance is king in "The Dream." Both ballets are great, and for me, Ashton's "The Dream" was a great discovery!
Sadly, there are no extras on this DVD.

Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
by Lawrence Kushner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.00
11 used & new from CDN$ 21.21

4.0 out of 5 stars Two Jews, Three Opinions, May 25 2004
This book is the fruit of a "learning partnership" between Professor Lawrence Kushner and playwright David Mamet. Each man reflects independently on a brief reading from the Torah which they have studied together. This is not a call-and-response presentation. On some lessons, the men make similar observations. More often, however, they seem to approach the exact same texts from wildly different perspectives. If you're the kind of person who believes the Bible is a vital, living, ever-transforming thing, this is profoundly encouraging. The Bible is as fresh as the minds that open themselves to it. They are a deep well; it is impossible to drain these sacred texts dry.
The cities of refuge in the book of Numbers were those cities where people suspected of violent crimes could flee to be protected from the blood vengeance of the family and clan members of one's victims. The citizens of these towns guaranteed your safety until your case could be carefully deliberated by wiser and cooler heads. According to Numbers, there were to be six of these cities within the territory of Israel. For the authors, the five "cities" of refuge are the five books of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). In these five masterworks, students can experience the patience and loving kindness of the Creator while reflecting on their blessings, mistakes, desires, and shortcomings. Safety, the authors seem to be saying, is a necessary prerequisite to exploring the fullness of God's mind and human potential. As Mamet says in his final contribution to this volume, "The 'struggle with the angel,' Judaism's struggle, is this: not that we will wrest more information from him--we will not--but that we learn to live with the information we possess--to cease seeking information and to pursue wisdom."
Some readers may find these devotions to be too slight (most are only one page long), but I found a slow careful reading of a single biblical text and Kushner's and Mamet's reflections on that text to be a great way to start the day. They are short enough to commit to, deep enough to enrich one's entire day.

The Koran: A Very Short Introduction
The Koran: A Very Short Introduction
by Michael Cook
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.72
39 used & new from CDN$ 0.86

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It ain't the Bible...and that's okay., May 3 2004
I really appreciated this (very) short introduction to the Koran. As a Christian who is fairly familiar with my own tradition's sacred book, the Bible, I found it helpful in explaining how the Koran and Bible are different. The books that make up the Bible were written over many centuries, the Koran was written and compiled in less than a century (and five centuries after the latest book in the New Testament). Most Jews and Christians read their Bibles in a translation (leaving it to their biblical scholars to learn the original languages); the Koran is read and recited exclusively in its original Arabic, even in countries where Arabic is not a native language (Iran, Malaysia). The Bible contains many types of literature--poetry, wisdom sayings, compelling narratives, prophetic utterances; the Koran refers to events and stories (including some, like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures) but has no narratives of its own (not even the story of its primary prophet, Muhammad) and consists only of prophetic utterances. The Bible is quite long; the Koran is relatively short and some Muslims have memorized it in its entirety. The Bible plays a significant role in the liturgy of Jews and Christians; public reading of the Koran is not part of Islamic public worship.
However, like the Hebrew Bible with its Midrashim and Talmud, and New Testament with the writings of the church fathers, the Koran has gathered around itself a enormous body of commentaries to help explain its difficult and contradicory texts. Many Islamic beliefs that are attributed to the Koran are actually based on the commentaries of its interpreters.
I liked this book because it focused solely on the Koran itself. Most books I've picked up on Islam don't give this much attention to the Koran, or only refer to it intermittently. For a "very short introduction" there's a lot here to digest.
The photos and illustrations are interesting and instructive. The book also includes a short chapter on reading Arabic transliteration, an annotated bibliography, and an index.

Ripley's Game (Sous-titres français) [Import]
Ripley's Game (Sous-titres français) [Import]
DVD ~ John Malkovich
Offered by Imagine This Music
Price: CDN$ 13.99
18 used & new from CDN$ 1.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and games among the sociopathic elite, April 28 2004
Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley is a true sociopath and Malkovich plays him chillingly. Although I had trouble understanding the basic scam that seems to be driving the plot of this movie, I have a hunch it is not really significant anyway. The movie seems to be primarily a metaphor for modern (postmodern?) life and the seduction of an honest (but weak and dying) man by evil. Dougray Scott plays the "innocent" party. His moral struggle and agony is constantly displayed on his face. It is hard to imagine how he as an actor could produce all this intense emotion when he is getting nothing but deadpan understatement from Malkovich. But their partnership on the screen is truly eerie. And the stony coldness of the Berlin setting (with its unforgetable associations with nazi evil) only adds to the general atmosphere of creepiness. Although I don't know if his line comes from Highsmith's novel, it does seem consistent with the existential aura in which she casts her killers to have Scott's character (at his most distraught) ask Ripley, "Why me? Why did you choose me?" Ripley's answer would have done Camus proud.
It's hard to picture Malkovich as the elder version of Matt Damon's Ripley (from The Talented Mr. Ripley). There is no sense of Ripley as the romantically disappointed lost soul committing murders in spite of his earnest desire to be socially accepted. Malkovich "thrives" socially--has a wife (or lover), and even enjoys harpsicord music. It's just not clear what he "gets" from all his success. That, to me, is the definition of a sociopath.
DVD extras can only be accessed via computer/internet.

The Oxford Style Manual
The Oxford Style Manual
by Robert Ritter
Edition: Hardcover
12 used & new from CDN$ 24.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great help for distinguishing British from American English, March 26 2004
What is not clear from the listing for this book in most of OUP's promotional materials is that THE OXFORD STYLE MANUAL is really TWO books in one: THE OXFORD GUIDE TO STYLE and THE OXFORD DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS AND EDITORS. Even at the combined length of just over 1,000 pages, THE MANUAL is a manageable reference work, no more cumbersome than a standard collegiate dictionary.
Although, as an American, I will continue to use the CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE as my arbiter for editorial decisions, I find Oxford's manual an excellent way of distinguishing between British and American styles of English; Part II (the dictionary) is especially thorough in pointing out key differences. Also, beginning on page 244 in Part I is a list of about 500 everyday American words with their British equivalents (tick-tack-toe = noughts and crosses). Although it would be nice to have the same list in reverse (an American's undershirt is a "vest" in UK, and his vest is a "waistcoat", something that is not immediately clear from the way the list is put together), the list is short enough for anyone to read through and become familiar with. (The CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE has no equivalent list.)
In short, a good and thorough resource.

Wild Reeds (Version française)
Wild Reeds (Version française)
DVD ~ Élodie Bouchez
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 107.88
6 used & new from CDN$ 22.93

4.0 out of 5 stars It goes where "Jules and Jim" didn't dare, March 15 2004
One girl and three guys--it does J&J one better. I always wondered why Jules and Jim bothered with "the girl" at all when they were obviously one another's true soul mates. Although WILD REEDS is not a gay film, it does have one gay character who has a couple of classmates who seem to be either bisexual or open to experimentation. The four adolescent leads in this movie are struggling with their sense of being an outsider, which seems to be a universal for boys and girls, straights and gays alike. At the same time that they are trying to come to terms with their sexual natures, they are developing a sense of their place in the world. Each of them is affected by the political issues of their day (the war in Algeria), the struggle against authoritarian school teachers, and the expectations of their families. What I found appealing about the way the characters were portrayed and developed is that each one seems to receive equal treatment, has an equal share of grief and confusion, and is equally susceptible to normal human foibles. To wish that the story lines were more resolved at the end of the film would be to ask that this thoughtful little movie be something it was not meant to be--a splashy, big-budget Hollywood film totally ungrounded in human reality.

Metrosexuality [DVD]
Metrosexuality [DVD]
Offered by The Digital Vault
Price: CDN$ 59.99
6 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Too manic for me!, Feb. 21 2004
This review is from: Metrosexuality [DVD] (DVD)
The Brits REALLY need to subtitle their DVDs for American consumption. _Metrosexuality_ is a visual and aural assault--color saturated, sets evocative of the photos of Gilles and Pierre, and a constant bombardment of slang and crosstalk. The plotline is blessedly thin--communion wafer thin! Suffice it to say, everyone is in love/lust with one or two others, struggling to be a good (though non-conventional) parent, or conversely, good child. Most of the characters have their charms, whatever their shortcomings. The one disturbing thing about the show for me was the fact that the filmmakers seem to look upon serious drug addiction with the same dismissive attitude as they do casual sex (some of the drug-taking scenes, in fact, are truly disturbing). There are a couple of scenes where the characters break into song. These scenes were fun in a Bollywood sort of way. The actors are either authentically good singers or good lip-synchers, and I felt the show would have benefited from more musical numbers. But there's really no point in trying to figure out what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish in _Metrosexuality_. It's best to just take it for what it is--cotton candy, fireworks, and a roller coaster ride.

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