Saturday, April 12, 2008

I just finished The Yiddish Policemen's Union, the latest novel by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is basically a hardboiled private eye mystery. The only difference is that the protagonist is actually a police office, but he quickly loses his badge so that puts him on the same footing as a PI.

The problem with the hardboiled genre is that it has been mined so heavily. The genre was pretty well covered by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and Mickey Spillane took it to it's hardboiled conclusion. Since then, everything has been repetition with variation. The biggest variation in this book is the setting. It's set in an alternate history where Israel was destroyed in 1948 and the US government created a sanctuary for Jews in Alaska, both things that almost happened.

As is inevitable, there is a death, an investigation and a conspiracy. Along the way, the protagonist persists and suffers his way to the solution. Coming from a Pulitzer Prize winning author, it is better written than most mysteries and the relationships are drawn a little better, but it is just a good example of the genre rather than something that transcends it.

Last night we saw the Wayne Shorter Quartet with special guests Imani Winds at the Masonic Auditorium in SF, part of the SF Jazz Spring Season.

Imani Winds is a wind quintet, playing modern chamber music. They did a set, then Wayne Shorter did a set and then they combined into a nonet for a set.

The Imani Wind set was interesting. It was a neat sound, and the pieces they played were original compositions and quite good.

Wayne Shorter's set was basically free jazz, which is not my favourite kind of jazz. There's nothing to hold on to - no consistent melody, rhythm or structure in which to judge the improvisation against. There were good moments in the music last night, but after a while it all starts to sound the same.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Last night I finished First Among Sequels, the latest Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde.

As I mentioned here, the last book, Something Rotten, felt like it was going to be the last book in the series since it wrapped up all the loose ends from the previous books, but it turns out it was just the end of that series of books. First Among Sequels is intended to be the first of a new series of four books. It also has an odd title, a play on First Among Equals, but it doesn't make a lot of sense since it is actually the fourth Thursday Next sequel.

Overall, it's an enjoyable book. Most of it takes place in the real world, fourteen years after the end of Something Rotten, which keeps the amount of meta-fictional gimmickry to a minimum, even though there is a bit of that since the novel features three different Thursday Next's - the real one and two fictional one from novelizations of her adventures.

Even though it's intended as the first book of a new series, this book is not recommended unless you've read the previous four books.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Yesterday I finished Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King, about the construction of the dome on top of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

A few interesting things jumped out at me. First, how patient people used to be. It took over 50 years to build Santa Maria del Fiore, and at the start, no one knew how to construct the proposed dome. Second, how small Florence was. People today seem to think that nothing important can happen in small towns or cities, but during the Renaissance, Florence's population varied widely (due to recurrence's of the Black Death) but was less than a hundred thousand.

Florence was one of my favourite places in Italy, the other being Vernazza, and one I would like to go back to since we only spent one night there. On reading this book, it was nice to have seen some of the things it describes, like Brunelleschi's dome and the bronze doors of the Baptistery, made by Brunelleschi's chief rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti.