10.31.2012

Reading life review: October

Number of books read in October: 18
Number of books read in 2012: 118
Complete list here.

Oedipus Rex (Sophocles) Play.
Electra (Sophocles) Play. With the Misses. We read the latter in anticipation of seeing Elektra at the Lyric Opera (which was simply amazing; related review here). What an intense drama Electra is! I thought Oedipus Rex was the height of Greek tragedy and the "filial horror story" genre. Heh, heh, heh. Was I ever wrong, eh?

The Playdate (Alice Millar) Fiction. If you like Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine, you may enjoy this competent psychological thriller. I did.

Equivocation (Bill Cain) Play.
We saw a production of this wonderful play last month at the Victory Garden Theater.
In London in the year 1605, a down-and-out playwright called Shagspeare (yes, it’s him) receives a royal commission to write a play promoting the government’s version of Guy Fawkes’ treasonous Gunpowder Plot. As Shag navigates the dangerous course between writing a lie and losing his soul, or writing the truth and losing his head, his devoted theatre troupe helps him negotiate each step along the way. At once an explosive comedy of ideas and a high-stakes political thriller, Bill Cain’s award-winning Equivocation deftly reveals the cat-and-mouse games in politics and art, and the craft of learning how to speak the truth in difficult times.
I tracked down a copy of the manuscript through the Dramatist's Play Service. Terrific stuff, both onstage and on the page.
CECIL:
You make them happy, but not so happy as to make them reject their unhappiness. You make them angry, but not so angry as to inspire action. You reduce all of reality to spectacle, making action unnecessary, even impossible. You are the perfect civic religion.

(deep admiration)

Your work will outlast the Bible -- which it resembles -- but you've improved on it.

SHAG:
How?

CECIL:
You've kept the willing suspension of disbelief and gotten rid of the moral demands.
Kill Shakespeare: Volume 1 (Conor McCreery) Graphic fiction. Given the subject, one would have thought this would have been a particularly delightful and fast read for me, but it languished in the partially read pile for a quite some time. The cuts from one story line to another just seemed too abrupt, and I set it aside until this month. Now Volume 2 in in the TBR queue.

Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Adrian Mitchell) Poetry, prose, myth. The Misses and I thoroughly appreciated this "lite" introduction to Ovid.

Metamorphoses (Mary Zimmerman) Play. Exquisitely beautiful. Read in anticipation of seeing "this very special anniversary production, ten years after its smash hit Broadway opening."

The Fat Flush Plan (Ann Louise Gittleman) Health. Although weight loss is certainly a wonderful benefit of this detoxifying health and nutrition plan, I reread Fat Flush this month to reacquaint myself with simple ways to use food and vitamins to feel better and maintain good health.

No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at age 16 (Alexandra Swann) Memoir. I share neither this family's faith nor its commitment to accelerated schooling, but I did appreciate Swann's earnest narrative.

Drawn In (Julia Rothman) Non-fiction. Subtitled "A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists," this selection complemented Artist's Journal Workshop (Cathy Johnson) from earlier this year.

Nox (Anne Carson) Poetry. From the description at Amazon:
Nox is an epitaph in the form of a book, a facsimile of a handmade book Anne Carson wrote and created after the death of her brother. The poem describes coming to terms with his loss through the lens of her translation of Poem 101 by Catullus “for his brother who died in the Troad.” Nox is a work of poetry, but arrives as a fascinating and unique physical object. Carson pasted old letters, family photos, collages and sketches on pages. The poems, typed on a computer, were added to this illustrated “book” creating a visual and reading experience so amazing as to open up our concept of poetry.
From Nox:
Prowling the meaning of a word, prowling the history of a person, no use expecting a flood of light. Human words have no main switch. But all those little kidnaps in the dark. And the luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of them that hangs in your mind when you turn back to the page you were trying to translate.
Gorgeous, original, memorable. Reviews: New Yorker, New York Magazine, NYT, the Washington Post.

American Born Chinese (Gene Luen Yang) Graphic novel. National Book Award Finalist in 2006. Michael L. Printz Award in 2007. Amazon.com Best Graphic Novel/Comic of the Year and the Booklist Top Ten Graphic Novel for Youth. These are just a fistful of the awards and accolades heaped on Yang's "ethnic bildungsroman." Superb in every way and highly recommended.

The Zen of Steve Jobs (Caleb Melby) Graphic novel. This delightful reimagining of the friendship between Jobs and Zen Buddhist priest Kobun Chino Otogawa sent me to my shelves in search of Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs.

January First: A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her (Michael Schofield) Non-fiction. Related article here.

The Hole (Guy Burt) Fiction. Although I can find nothing on M-mv (which entered its tenth year this month) or in my reading journals, I felt that I had begun or skimmed this before. And, no, I haven't seen the movie. In any event, it was an intriguing, if awkwardly written, psychological "thriller."

Shelter (Harlan Coben) YA fiction. While I've read and recommended some of Coben's adult fiction titles (e.g., Hold Tight and Caught), I thought this YA selection was improbable, to say nothing of impossibly "gappy" -- that is, too many plot-holes.

Henry V (William Shakespeare) Play. A re-read, with the Misses, for St. Crispin's Day.

Never Knowing (Chevy Stevens) Fiction.When Toby's Room appeared in my list of recommendations, Pat Barker's magnificent Regeneration Trilogy, which I read and pressed on anyone who would listen years ago, was recalled to me. Suddenly, there were a couple of Barker novels in my cart, and I thought, In for a penny, in for a pound, and perused the rest of the recommendations. Never Knowing was among them, and the price, which should have frightened me off, actually sold it: $2.73 in hardcover. (At this writing, it is $1.93.)

Yes, I'm certain quality fiction can be had at deep discounts, but this was not that. Never Knowing is simply a bound Lifetime movie: Adopted adult daughter never felt good enough. Has fraught family relationships, a handsome fiance, a whiny kid, a trusty dog, and an interesting job (one that allows her to run off and/or act erratically without making (m)any excuses). Visits a therapist. Tracks down her birth mother. A private detective later, learns the sordid truth about her conception. Gunshots! Kidnapping! Death! And of course, the requisite "twist." It was all so durned predictable.

And yet... not an altogether unpleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Heh, heh, heh.

10.15.2012

PSA: Identity thieves steal the social security numbers of dead children.

From "Social Security death list enables dead children’s ID theft" (Scripps Howard News Service, November 7, 2011):
Parents who recently lost a child are increasingly targeted by these thieves, experts say. Armed with the deceased child’s Social Security number and other personal information, the crooks falsely claim them as dependents and have the refunds routed to them.
You see, the Social Security Administration's Death Master File is sold to genealogy websites by the Commerce Department's National Information Service, which puts the numbers at the fingertips of researchers and thieves, alike. The latter file fake returns early, which results in the legitimate return being rejected.

In our case, this wasn't quite as traumatic as it could have been: Our son turned twenty-one the year he died but was no longer our dependent; hence, I filed a return on his behalf. In other words, our own return was unaffected. But it took many telephone calls and much paperwork to resolve the case, which was finally closed this past summer.

Families who have lost a dependent child may face the horror of dealing with the IRS regarding their own return, though.

I can't. even. imagine.

Here are a couple of related news articles and a post:

Identity Thieves Are Stealing Social Security Numbers From Dead Children 

Tax Cheats Troll Public List for Dead Kids’ Identities 

IRS May Have Lost Billions To Identity Theft, Treasury Says

I suspect there may be a special circle in hell for these people.