Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have been a very bad blogger lately, and I apologize for the lack of weekly posts. Right now, I am in the thick of the semester with classes I TA for, and I am also trying to get my proposal done for my tentative hearing next month. When you add in my other, non-university job, things get a little chaotic :). However, after February 12, I should be back on track with regular updates...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: "Twitterature"

There are many things that seem great on paper but fail to live up to their potential. This sentence sums up my thoughts on Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets of Less by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin. In theory, the idea seems like it would be vastly entertaining; the very idea of condensing the classics into tweets seems ripe for humor. Unfortunately, to say that the book was underwhelming might be a little too kind.

Let me start with what Aciman and Rensin get right. The book occasionally has a keen sense of humor. The book's glossary is entertaining and informative, particularly for those who aren't completely conversant in the text/ tweet speak. Also, some of the individual tweets of the books are pretty funny. Take, for instance, the following tweet from Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the Beatles album - yes, I know it's not a book, but the tweeted version is one of the best things in Twitterature, so I'm going with it): "I used to be an abusive tyrant. Rockin' out, getting high, beating my woman. But now I'm better. Or at least no worse." While this might seem horrific if you aren't familiar with the song, it is actually a pretty accurate description of "Getting Better."

Despite these high points, Twitterature is a disappointing and often maddening read. Rather than trying to mimic the styles of the authors of the different books, Aciman and Rensin uniformly use modern language, which is disconcerting to say the least. Reading Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird tweet, "Tom accused of raping a woman, but I'm pretty sure they just got it on. Can't a brother get some tush?" just seems wrong. Using modern vernacular, rather than putting forth the effort to try to write in the style of the books and their characters, robs Twitterature of potential humor and just seems lazy. An additional shortcoming is the authors' apparent obsession with cursing and potty humor. (Given that Aciman and Rensin are undergrads in college, this shouldn't be surprising.) While some cursing and scatological humor can be effective and funny when used in moderation, the constant use of "WTF" and "Oh sh*t" gets old very quickly.

Consequently, if you are looking for book synopses that read like they have been written by Mike Myers during his Love Guru phase, then this book is for you. However, if you want well-written, witty, and entertaining takes on the classics, you had best look elsewhere. (May I suggest ShrinkLits, Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook, or The Five Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics?)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Kennedy Center Honors

Unlike many ceremonies and awards shows, The Kennedy Center always does an excellent job providing a retrospective of the honorees' achievements and work. Yes, the Kennedy Center Honors have had a few bumps (even I felt bad for Jessica Simpson when she tried to pay tribute to Dolly Parton), but the presentation is consistently thoughtful and touching.

In addition to the "awww" factor (just see how happy and moved the honorees are when they watch the presentation and try not to tear up a little), the show's producers have been very good at getting some excellent talent for the ceremonies. This is particularly true when it comes to honoring theatre composers, lyricists, and performers. Not only do these presentations usually include the de rigueur biographical video and speeches, but they typically have a selection of numbers associated with the honoree. Furthermore, these numbers are often performed by some of the original cast members. Where else will you get to see Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, and Alan Cumming dancing to "New York, New York"?

Here are a few of my favorite theatre moments:

Kander & Ebb (1998)

This is one of the most amazing performances ever. Even though Liza is a little shaky, it is still an awesome movement. As an added bonus, you can also see how excited Bill Cosby and the Clintons are during the performance. Even though I don't typically like audience reaction shots, the Kennedy Center Honors are the exception to this.

Julie Andrew (2001)

Not my favorite set of performances, but Julie Andrews's palpable graciousness is incredible to watch.

Mel Brooks (2009)

There is so much to enjoy. Even if you (like me) get a little weirded out during "Springtime for Hitler," this clip just cracks me up. An added bonus, you can play "Hey, look who that is!" during the audience reaction shots.