Wall Street Journal Review section June 16-17

June 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm (Art, books, Magazines and newspapers, Music)

It’s taken me a long time to get though the June 16-17 Review section of the Wall Street Journal. I feel as though the editors sat  down, put their heads together, and came up with article after article that would fascinate Roberta. Yes I know: it’s a very egocentric conceit.  And yet I have rarely come across so much truly neat stuff crammed into a relatively small space.

Some of the highlights:

“I Know Why the Fat Lady Sings,” in which Caitlin Moran describes with almost scary  precision what it feels like to be a compulsive eater:

People overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, have serial one-night stands or take drugs. I must be clear that I am not talking about the kind of overeating that’s just plain, cheerful greed—the kind of Rabelaisian, Falstaffian figures who treat the world as a series of sensory delights and take full joy in their wine, bread and meat. Those who walk away from a table—replete—shouting, “That was splendid!” before sitting in front of a fire, drinking port and eating truffles, don’t have neuroses about food. They aren’t “fat,” they are simply…lavish.

No—I’m talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn’t one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought. Those who walk into the kitchen in a state bordering on panic and breathlessly eat slice after slice of bread and butter—not even tasting it—until the panic can be drowned in an almost meditative routine of chewing and swallowing, spooning and swallowing.

In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.

(Why, just this morning I was devouring my beloved morning bowl of cereal while reading the Sunday paper, when I suddenly looked up and thought, Where have I been? This actually happens to me every morning!)

Moran is equally perceptive on the subject of the shame that attaches to overeating and its lamentable consequences.


There’s the usual quota of eminently engaging book reviews: Jonathan Karl, on David Maraniss’s new biography of Barak Obama, was especially insightful. It’s a good example of  a review that, for me, will suffice without recourse to the book.  On the other hand, David Stuart’s piece on Andrew Robinson’s Cracking the Egyptian Code and Moira Hodgson on The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray sent me immediately to the online library catalog.

Tom Nolan is a veteran critic of crime fiction for the Wall Street Journal. In addition, he’s the author of  a fine biography of one of my favorite writers, Ross MacDonald.   In this edition of the WSJ Review, he contributes a lively overview of  the Inspector Montalbano series written by Andrea Camilleri.  In other genre fiction news,Tom Shippey informs and entertains on the science fiction front with “Cyborg, All Too Cyborg.”

I’ve mentioned before my delight in the column called Five Best: A Personal Choice. In this issue of WSJ, novelist Richard Zimler selects “tales of pariahs and misfits.” Once again I’m reminded of books I’ve always intended to read but haven’t (and oh, is that ever a long, long list!), Philip Roth’s I Married a Communist and The Story of a Life, the memoir of Israeli novelist and Holocaust survivor Aharon Appelfeld. Two of Zimler’s suggestions are titles new to me: Sirius by Olaf Stapledon and The Story of Harold by Terry Andrews. Finally, there’s Home by Marilynne Robinson.

  I read Home for a book group discussion. I was somewhat reluctant to tackle it, as I’d had a hard time getting through its predecessor, Gilead. For this reader, Marilynne Robinson writes short books that take a long time to get through – sort of the opposite, say, of Wolf Hall. The characters at times seem more like archetypes than flesh and blood human beings. Robinson is a writer of formidable intellect who, I believe, is best serves by the essay form. (Her latest collection is the rather quaintly entitled When I Was a Child, I Read Books.) In fairness, I have to concede that her writing is beautiful. And in the case of Home, something so redeeming happens at the conclusion – the place where so much contemporary fiction stumbles – that it pretty much made the effort worthwhile.

Another excellent feature of this paper is the column Word Craft. In “The Architecture of a Thriller,” Jeffery Deaver explains how the process of outlining aids him in his work.


Stuart Isacoff, author of A Natural History of the Piano, contributed an article on Maurice Ravel’s famous – some might say, notorious – work, Bolero.  Many find this piece numbingly repetitive. Ravel himself did not have much respect for it, declaring it to have been simply a technical exercise:

Ravel had simply set himself a technical task—a study in musical minimalism. The piece would consist of a theme repeated “a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” If the description sounds mechanical, that was the idea; he even imagined its performance in a factory setting. The music “constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything [more],” he told the Daily Telegraph in 1931.

Ravel set much greater store by Daphnis and Chloe and La Valse. Now I admit, Bolero can have a certain compelling quality, especially if it’s performed by master talents such as Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris:

Okay – now try getting that melody out of your head after you’ve listened to this! On the other hand, the subtle and sensuous Daphnis and Chloe is a true masterpiece. It’s one of Ron’s and my favorite works in the orchestral repertoire:

Maurice Ravel
1875 – 1937


‘Orders’ by Philip Guston, 1978

On the art scene, Margaret Studer takes us to Art Basel in Switzerland, where get the surprising news that the economic downturn has not affected the art market – quite the opposite, in fact.  Closer to home, Rachel Wolff takes us to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, currently hosting an exhibit entitled ‘Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia.’ (This looks positively delicious; I wish I were there right now!)

‘Large Bathers’ by Paul Cezanne


Keep in mind: I’ve just presented highlights here. articles that were of particular interest to me. There’s quite  bit more on offer here – a great deal to delight and inform, in a mere fourteen pages of newsprint!

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