Are you an ebook reader?

Now that I’ve been posting about some of the ebooks I’ve been reading, I’d like to hear about your experiences in digital browsing.

Are you among those who are books sold in digital formats, which now fill a fifth of the market?

What platform do you use? Kindle, I assume, is most likely, but there are more? What do you like or dislike about the various platforms?

What are your reasons for going digital?

I have to admit I still love paper and typography, but the economy and lack of clutter in ebooks have their appeal. So, yes, how about you?

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s popularity, not excellence

We wanted to give a local business a boost, so we went online to cast a vote in “Seacoast’s Best” polling. You’ve no doubt seen other places touting some similar honor.

We very quickly realized that for many of the designations, we had little or no awareness of most of the nominees. Like we knew the six women running for the region’s Best Nurse? Or we’d eaten at all six parlors in line for the Best Pizza? No, a vote went to the one you might already know, if you didn’t skip over it altogether.

Such results are bound to be quite different from those based on a few knowledgeable critics who evaluate on quality criteria and point us in unexpected directions.

Now that’s a Best I’d respect.

So William Shakespeare wasn’t the writer?

The range of the bard’s vocabulary and situations long appeared to be beyond the possibilities of the man’s background and training.

Long ago I came to a sense that he might have simply been the recorder and editor of a more free-form ensemble, an improv troupe, if you will.

Now I’ve come across arguments that the real playwright was Amelia Bassano, and it’s far more convincing.

A digital search will point you to the arguments, pro and con.

Anyone else like the idea that the most important writer in the English canon was a woman? One of Italian and Jewish descent, at that?

An aside on poetry readings

Catching up on my stack of Harper’s magazine, I came across a remembrance of the poet Etheridge Knight, and it stirred a long buried memory.

Etheridge? I paused, before remembering he was a black inmate of the Indiana State Penientiary when he began writing seriously. Damn good stuff, as I discovered.

My introduction came in the mid ’70s when Roger Pfiingston asked if I wanted to go with him up to Indianapolis, aka Naptown, to a reading and open mic. I was free that night. The trip from Bloomington was a little over an hour, and he was driving.

The event was at a bar in the inner city, not a familiar terrain, and Etheridge was hosting. I should go back to my journals for details, but I recall it as a warm and comforting evening. I think Jared Carter was the featured reader. Another damned good Indiana poet.

I was a bit nervous about one of the pieces I’d brought with me, one that quoted a friend’s father about a lover in the ’30s, but I read it anyway.

The line in question triggered delighted, loud laughter from Etheridge, especially. I was sooooh relieved!

Looking back, I see it as one more confirmation – and welcome – as my identity as a poet.

What a wonderful community!

Zoom? Ten takes on group meetings online

By now, you’ve probably had your fill of Zoom or GoToMeeting or Skype. (Any others I haven’t heard of?) They’ve become inescapable, it seems, and essential.

Here are ten takes from my end.

  1. We don’t look good, folks. Everybody looks older. More wrinkled. Distorted, too. (There are reasons actors use so much makeup!)
  2. We spend too much time on trying to figure out what we’re doing. It’s not just the agenda, but mostly about getting settled, figuring out who’s “here,” and tweaking our settings. It’s a real problem when we have only 40 minutes total.
  3. Tech confusion. Are you muted or not, why isn’t this or that working, that sort of thing.
  4. Remembering to cover or uncover the camera
  5. We sound wobbly. That, and all the awkward pauses and unintentional interruptions. Oh, yes, and all the ambient noise if a group is mostly unmuted.
  6. The moderator is very important. Though trying to chair a meeting and simultaneously man the controls is a bit much. We really need a “producer” for that.
  7. Selecting who’s to speak next. Do we raise a hand to the camera or press the little hand button instead? How about the Chat function? Are we unmuted? This gets difficult once the group gets bigger than a handful and the moderator has to keep scanning the panels that were offscreen.
  8. We get to “visit” in others’ homes. Often, the scene is an individual’s dining area or study, but we’ve also been outdoors on a porch and down in the cellar (which looked and sounded more like an Apollo space mission). It’s been fun seeing other sides of our friends this way, though often the lighting’s not so hot. (See Point 1.)
  9. Remembering to “attend.” Or to send the invitation out to all in time. Somehow, we’re losing track of time, even the day of the week, in this self-isolation.
  10. Doesn’t work as well on smart phones or tablets. No, you really do need a laptop, PC, or large screen for optimal control.

What stands out from your encounters?

Ten more takes from the Met’s nightly free streaming

One bright spot in for me in this Covid-19 self-isolation has been the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly streaming of a Live in HD performance from its archive. As I mentioned in a March 23 posting, these are free and available until 3:30 the next afternoon. Better yet, the series is continuing. I’ve now seen more operas this way than I’ve seen live and in concert combined.

As I mentioned in “Spending nights at the opera on my laptop,” watching these performances is quite different from listening to them on the radio, and some of the things that stand out for me are the extraordinary level of the acting, by not just the principal singers but everyone on stage, leading to the important presence of the chorus in its role as actors and not just voices, and the brilliance of the opera’s dancers, who I’ll argue are highly underappreciated – they even move much of the set around during some productions. Yes, and those sets and costumes are amazing, even with all of the excessive luxury, expense, and unbelievable perfection that the video cameras catch even when those in the audience are oblivious at their distance. This is as close to the ideal, overall, as anyone could ever expect in live theater.

The backstage videos and interviews have also deepened my appreciation. Many kudos.

That said, let me note ten more distinctive things that are jumping out for me as I watch:

  1. The oath. Or, in far fewer instances, a vow. I hadn’t notice this before, but in at least 90 percent of opera, the entire drama revolves around a sworn declaration – often forced upon someone, as in a deathbed scene, but sometimes from youthful outbursts. Watch for this, as I am now. And then, swear not, as Jesus counseled. It always leads to trouble.
  2. The physicality of the singers. Gone are the days of lining up the big voices and the chorus behind them. Nowadays, they’re running and jumping and dancing while singing the most incredibly difficult music, even when they get a break to drop back on their backs. Look, to sing like this you need a LOT of breath (try to follow them as they sing and see where they pause to inhale) and then think about all of the other demands on their air. Got me? It’s amazing.
  3. The swordfights. Remember, this is live, with no room for a retake. And it’s convincing.
  4. Dancing or miming the overture or prelude. The opening music has often seemed like a spacer to establish the mood while latecomers arrive. Something like a mini-symphony, to spotlight the instrumentalists, before we get to the real stuff. Some of the newer productions, however, are raising the curtain by the time the conductor enters the orchestra pit and feature dancing or acting during the introductory music. It’s like showing a movie scene before rolling the credits, and even more impressive. Why haven’t we always done it this way?
  5. Updating the action. Trying to reset the historical setting of the story is always tricky, but when it works, it’s brilliant. Note the Met’s “Rigoletto,” move to gambling Las Vegas, which we’ve not yet viewed. But everything I’ve seen so far along these lines has been brilliant. “Macbeth” as a ‘ 50s rebellion definitely fits, once we take it out of Scotland. As does Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutti” in Coney Island, though I wish they had swapped the couples at the finale – this production had room for that feminist power reintrepretion.
  6. Appreciating the subtitles. I love that these are contemporary translations, unlike the tortured Victorian-era lines I tried to follow way back when. As an exacting editor, I appreciate their high quality (only one or two places I’d object as a grammarian), My sole qualm has been in religious references when these drop into “Biblical” language, the “thee” instead of “you” line of speech, even in Drudic and Hindu instances.
  7. On-stage touches. Everytime I see flames in a scene, I wonder how they got that bit past the fire marshal. Not just cigarettes or cigars (hope they don’t inhale, it’s bad for the voice) to candles and torches and fireplaces and conflagrations that level a village. The use of puppetry is incredibly effective, as we’ve seen especially in “Butterfly.” And then there are the wigs, even for the chorus. (More than 2,000 a season, as we learned in a backstage interview.)
  8. The animals. Yes, dogs, horses, donkeys, and more … on stage!
  9. The collegiality of the cast. The days of the infamous prima donna is largely gone. Singers today are generally professional and respect the work of others, even when they tackle the same roles. It’s apparent in the interviews.
  10. Conducting. It’s not the same as leading a symphony, and I find these maestro’s motions much harder to follow. For one thing, they’re way ahead of the beat. Even so, the Met band is glorious, a far improvement over the rough-edged ensemble before James Levine’s tenure. The audience doesn’t start applauding as soon as a big singer ends an aria, either, but waits for the final orchestral note fades.

Is there anything that’s making this period of shelter-in-place somehow special?

 

IKEA, where small is stylish

The Swedish retailer of low-cost home furnishings, appliances, cookware, and the like is a magnet for folks trying to make the most of tight spaces like apartments. Say a challenge like a 400-square-foot apartment.

Even if you have an old five-bedroom home like ours, the interiors can be challenging. IKEA has frequently come to our rescue. Yes, some assembly is usually required, and I can attest it’s not always idiot proof, but overall, we’ve been pleased with the results.

The closest IKEA superstore to us is located south of Boston, and since deliveries aren’t cheap, it’s worth the four-hour round-trip, even if you get lost inside once you’re there, as I have. The cafeteria, by the way, is quite the bargain.

Are you one of those intrigued by the small-scale living space displays in the IKEA superstores?

What’s your experience been?

I’d love to take a train ride but …

My wife mentioned that she’s seeing a lot of deals from Amtrak, and that had me thinking how overdue I am for a trip on the Downeaster to Boston or the other way up to Portland, Maine, or beyond. As a senior, I even get to ride at half-price.

Of course, Covid-19 came into the picture, and I started flashing through the factors.

If the train’s not crowded, I’d have plenty of social distance. I could also carry hand sanitizer and even wear my colorful homemade mask to reduce risk of exposure.

I’ve been wanting to go to a Boston Symphony concert, finally see their new music director in action, but then I paused, realizing all of those concerts have been cancelled.

My considerations moved on to a visit at Harvard’s famed Fogg art museum, which had reopened after extensive renovations. Well, reopened is the wrong word. For the time being, it’s closed again. Hope the renovations hold.

Ditto, too, for a fine meal, maybe even in the North End’s Little Italy a few blocks from North Station. Forget that during the coronavirus shutdowns.

So it looks like that getaway is off, maybe till autumn? Or sometime next year?

This is getting boring. Or something like that.