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BY THE WAY

There's a whole lotta readin' going' on

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 12:01 am

There has been a lot of reading going on in this household, and I thought I’d share some reactions with you.

I had written in a column about a book by Edwidge Danticat, and when I learned about two others of hers, I reserved them. “The Dew Breaker” was available. It’s fine, but not as good as “Claire of the Sea Light,” which I had thought unusually good and an excellent picture of life in Haiti. This, too, is a picture of Haitian life, but the story isn’t quite the grabber I had hoped it would be. Decide for yourself.

There’s something about Malcolm Gladwell’s writing that appeals to us, which is why, I guess, “Outliers,” “Blink” and “The Tipping Point” have been so popular. He takes a subject and runs with it, and we read it and find its truisms make very good sense. We kind of knew about the efficacy of luck, but when he writes about it and illustrates his points so entertainingly, we succumb again.

This time it’s “David and Goliath.” Whether it’s the civil rights movement in this country or the British in Northern Ireland or those French persons who had saved Hugeonots once upon a time and now saw the necessity of saving Jews from Hitler’s madness, Gladwell personalizes his stories.

His father, he writes, accused him of oversimplication. Do you agree? I don’t. And it’s good reading.

Which brings me to two completely different books. First, there’s “The Goldfinch,’” by Donna Tartt. I know it won a Pulitzer Prize, and I know it was a best-seller for months. But oh, how I wished it had been shortened by several hundred pages.

Yes, it’s over 700 pages long That’s long.

You know the story: A terrorist bomb goes off in an art museum, which a young boy and his mother are visiting. She is a wonderfully drawn, beautiful woman and a wonderful mother. Her young son, Theo, is the narrator of the story, which is his life guarding a small but significant painting, the glorious goldfinch, which is given to him by a dying man in the wrecked museum. His mother is killed in the blast and resulting carnage. The reader meets many skillfully presented characters, and there are many twists and turns — and I wish it had been 300 pages shorter.

But not “Wonder of Wonders.” This gem is by Alisa Solomon. One time when Curt and I were in London, a wonderful theater town, we saw “The Man of La Mancha” the first night, “Fiddler on the Roof” the second night and ended up with “Cabaret” the third night. All three were powerful, all three were perfectly presented, and all three affected me, “Fiddler” the most.

Then came the film, which is so well done. Well, this book covers the whole life of the play (and movie) from the stories about Tevye, by Sholem Aleichem, to the final curtain.

That’s wrong: There will never be a final curtain for this musical, which is a favorite of high school drama teachers and small-town musical enthusiasts. I learned so much.

For example, I learned why I thought “Chagall” a few times during the play. It’s because Jerome Robbins, the producer, found Chagall’s works most clearly defined the way he, Robbins, thought of the shtetl and the surrounding area. That’s the kind of insight this book gives to the reader.

I treasured this book so much I bought it. It arrived today, so my library copy will be available to you very soon. Read it. This is the world of theater and how books are transferred from one art form to another and what passion can create.

I’ve just started “The Exiles Return,” by Elisabeth de Waal. I’ll let you know more next time.

Betty E. Stein is a retired teacher in Fort Wayne.