Friday, December 30, 2016

Of Human Bondage

For a month or so I have slowly been reading Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. I started just reading a little a night. I had read this before in my teens or twenties, but do not remember much of it from then, and probably didn't get it.

I loved this book. Reading it slowly works well, as it's an in-depth coming of age story, starting with the death of Phillip's mother when he was around 8, and ending when he is 30. He is introspective and isolated in his childhood, largely unhappy and friendless, and has a club foot which separates him from his peers and others. It is a source of shame but also provides an opportunity for him to see the people around him from a unique, at times painful, perspective.

There is an unrequited masochistic love story that is central to the plot, but to me Of Human Bondage is more about someone who thinks and feels deeply exploring different ways of living in the world, and his meditations on love, art, human nature, suffering, religion, etc were not dry and pretentious, but earnest and heart-wrenching.

Unfortunately the ending was rushed and I thought a bit too pat. I was disappointed. Also, I would have liked to continue to read about Philip. I wish Maugham had pulled a "Rabbit" a la John Updike.

Beth Orton at Carnegie Hall

At the beginning of this month I saw Beth Orton perform at Carnegie Hall. I have loved her for years (decades?). Central Reservation was a very important album for me at the time; I listened to it obsessively. I have also very much enjoyed Trailer Park. Her ethereal, emotional voice combined with her tempos and synthetic sound create such a haunting, intimate landscape.

This was the second time I've seen her and in both concerts she seemed shy and self-deprecating. She performed with a backdrop of visuals that I thought were nice but unnecessary. As for songs, I was totally into her newer ones that I was not familiar with, but of course really loved most the old favorites.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Office

 In October I binge watched all 9 seasons of The Office.  I started watching it just as something entertaining to have on while I did other things, but the particular humor of this show was not something I could only half pay attention to.

The Office depicts a mundane world of unexciting characters doing boring, almost pointless, work while held hostage by their self-absorbed, performance oriented boss. The interactions are awkward and uncomfortable, but also incredibly hilarious and even surreal. The characters have seemingly little in common, yet they must co-exist in a small depressing space hour after hour. The antics are largely based on situations where dominant aspects of one character clash with another, and in an amazing and special way, it is through these juxtapositions of flaws that a unique joy emerges. Dunder Mifflin is really fun. In small and silly ways, like when they all get swept up in betting about every little thing.  And The Office is often touching, as unlikely friendships form and awful behaviors are seen from a more compassionate perspective.

Steve Carell is incredible as Michael Scott, and the last seasons when he was gone seemed unfocussed and disappointing, but it was also during these seasons that the characters' narratives really took off. It became less about the office and more about their lives. I was shocked by how moved I was by the final few episodes, where the documentary about them over all theses years is finally aired. They get to see themselves, and, beautifully, while the viewer expected them to be exposed as petty and sad and crazy, their lives are instead shown as meaningful, and they get the unique opportunity to watch their past unfold before them.  As much as I laughed out loud during 8 and a half seasons, I was totally crying during those final episodes. I was caught off guard by how moving it was. Something that particularly touched me was the friendship that formed between Oscar and Angela.

I liked it so much it is possible I will soon start it again from the beginning!