I watched two DVDs at home this week and one that I had to leave the house to see:
Last week I said, referring to the HBO series Big Love, "I'll go ahead and watch the next three episodes, just to give it a fair shake, but at this point I'd be surprised if I keep watching past that point." Well, color me unsurprised. It's not that I think it's a bad show; it's just that I can't get interested in it. Also, I really dislike Chloe Sevigny's character Nicki a lot, which might not be a deal-killer were she not played by an actress I don't particularly like. I went ahead and read the season summaries on Wikipedia, and I can't say there was anything I feel like I really missed out on by reading about it instead of watching it unfold on screen.
Continuing to work backwards through the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winners I haven't seen, I came to Howards End, which won the Oscar in 1993. It was good, but my favorite Merchant Ivory adaptation of a classic British novel starring Emma Thompson and Emma Thompson remains The Remains of the Day. I've now seen the last 26 Best Adapted Screenplay winners.
There an ongoing series of events here in Madison called ED Talks Wisconsin, and as part of that series the Wisconsin Union Directorate Global Connections Committee sponsored a screening of The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System, a short documentary that follows Harvard University researcher Dr. Tony Wagner as he visits several Finnish schools and talks with teachers, students, and parents about the Finnish system, which is considered to be one of the best public education systems in the world. It's an interesting film, and an interesting system, but the Finnish model is not one that would be very easy to implement in a country as populous and heterogeneous as the United States. A state might be able to do it, but I doubt there's the political will anywhere to make it happen. One quibble I had with the documentary: it confined its visits to Helsinki and Sipoo, a nearby suburb. I would have liked to see how the system is implemented in a more remote region with a smaller population and fewer resources than you would find in a major city like Helsinki.
Wordwise, I finished Northanger Abbey. What a delightful book. It's probably Austen's funniest novel; Catherine's naivete and overactive imagination makes for some really fun comic setpieces, and Austen's narration adds to the humor. I don't know why I waited so long to reread this one.
Having finished that, I decided to follow Catherine's example to read one of her favorite novels, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. I'm four chapters in, and thus far I fail to see what about it got Miss Morland so excited. At least half of what I've read so far is descriptions of the Pyrenean scenery through which M. St. Aubert, Emily, and Valancourt are travelling. I thought things were going to pick up once they reached the mysterious convent, but all that happened there was that they had dinner, slept, and left the next morning. Where are the supernatural terrors and Italian brigands I was promised?
In between finishing Northanger Abbey and starting The Mysteries of Udolpho, I read Richard Russo's newest book, Elsewhere. As I said last week, I don't generally care much for memoirs, but Russo is one of my favorite authors, so I decided to give it a chance. And I liked it a lot! Of course, it's barely a memoir; it's much more about his mother than about him, though he features in the story pretty heavily because of their close relationship over the years. But I love the way he writes, and it was interesting to read him write about his complicated relationship with his hometown of Gloversville, New York, after having read his novels, a great many of which tale place in decaying industrial towns much like Gloversville.
In the musical arts, I attended an oboe recital. This was, I believe, a first for me. The oboe part, I mean. I've been to a lot of recitals. I went to this one because my friend Rachel was singing in it. Most works for oboe, it seems, are written not for oboe alone but for oboe and something else, and for the first half of the program, Rachel was the something else. She and the oboist (and a pianist) performed three Bach arias and (sans pianist) a set of ten poems by William Blake set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Blake is one of my favorite poets, so once I heard she was doing those, I knew I had to go. Of the Bach arias, my favorite was "Sich übenim Lieben," from BWV 202, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, also known as the Wedding Cantata. (You needn't take my word for it; for the next three days, you can hear it yourself here at the 2:55:30 mark.) Of the Vaughan Williams songs, I liked "A Poison Tree" and "The Lamb."