Friday, February 22, 2013

Campus Event: The Normal Heart at Berea College Theatre Laboratory

I had the opportunity to watch a powerful performance here on campus. The play tells the story of the very early days of the epidemic that would be known to the world as AIDS through the eyes of a group of gay men and a doctor researcher in New York City. Nowadays people take for granted that AIDS can be treated, or at least kept somewhat under control with various drugs. But back in the early 1980s, it was a new disease that seemed to only attack gay men. This brought forth a lot of ugly prejudices from religious zealots like Jerry Falwell, who is mentioned in the play, to disregard and arrogance from the medical community to flat out governmental neglect at all levels-- city, state, and federal.

In the play, the medical establishment's "debate" on the issue was well portrayed by the characters of Dr. Emma (portrayed by Ms. Victoria Brown), the doctor caring for these new patients,  and the Examining Doctor, (portrayed by Professor Shan R. Ayers), representing the arrogance and infighting of a medical establishment more interested at times in glory and fame than helping people. I think the fact that the Examining Doctor is unnamed only adds to the cold, impersonal and really uncaring nature of the medical establishment at this time when it came to gay people and the epidemic. This scene was a powerful moment in a play that has many moving and powerful moments.

Once the play starts, the audience is riveted for the performance as the actors take us back to the New York City of the early 1980s. The cast puts forth a solid and passionate performance. I want to specially highlight Mr. Robert "Chip" Plummer as Ned Weeks, the passionate, headstrong write and activist who tells it like it is with no apologies. We can also note Mr. Joseph Cross, portraying city health worker Mickey Marcus, who does a great job showing us and exposing the divisions in the gay male community. He also showed us the frustration of being a health worker in the front lines of the new deadly epidemic and not being able to provide help due to lack of information and bureaucratic obstacles. Together with the rest of the cast they bring the play and its times to life. If this play and this production do not move you and make you think, you are probably not paying attention. The AIDS epidemic continues to rage on around the world, and those who suffer it face ignorance, discrimination, and neglect. Thus the play remains as relevant as ever.

On a brief technical note, there was good use of lighting. Plus the use of selected 1980s musical pieces enhanced the production's ambiance.

Overall, this is an excellent production right here in Berea that should not be missed. I highly recommend it. To those of us who saw the rise of the epidemic, it will bring back memories and remind us that there is still much to learn and do. To those who have only known a time with AIDS being there all the time, the play offers a valuable lesson.

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Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart runs this week from Tuesday February 19th to Saturday February 23, 2012 at the McGaw Theater on Berea Campus. Performances are at 8:00pm. I caught the Wednesday evening show.

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Since I am a librarian, I have to recommend at least one book. A very good treatment of the early days of AIDS is Randy Shilts' book And the Band Played On (link to my very brief review on GoodReads). The book as I recall particularly brings to the life the infighting and constant attempts to jockey for position in the medical establishment, their petty squabbles and flat out refusals to cooperate at times when they could have saved lives for fear some researcher would scoop out another and steal the spotlight. And there is more in the book. Worth a look.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Booknote: The Alchemist (graphic novel adaptation)

I thought this was a good enough book to share with my four readers. So, I am posting my review as I posted it on my GoodReads profile.

The Alchemist: A Graphic NovelThe Alchemist: A Graphic Novel by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had read The Alchemist before, in Spanish, a few years back, and I have to say I read at a good time in my life when, much as the book describes, I was in pursuit of my personal legend. So, when I saw there was a graphic novel adaptation of the book, I was very interested. I think the adaption by Derek Ruiz does a good job of bringing the novel to life for readers. The art by Daniel Sampere is well suited to the tale. The art is colorful, and it brings the setting of the tale to life. The graphic novel is a very easy book to read; it took me a couple of hours to get through it, and it is book you may want to reread again that still captures Coelho's message pretty well. I think also that some readers may want to find the full text novel to better savor the prose as well as take more of Coelho's message in. Overall, a nice inspirational tale and a nice reading experience. It is the tale of shepherd Santiago who has a dream and then goes forth on a quest to find a treasure, but what will he find, if anything? And who will he meet along the way? I can tell you he will meet various people along his journey, each with lessons to offer. And on an interesting note about the art, the artist used the likeness of Paulo Coelho for one of the characters, so be on the lookout for that.

Libraries with graphic novel collections will probably want to add this one. I would say teens and up would be a good audience for the book. If you have not read the novel before, this is a good way to do it. If you, like me, have read the novel before, this adaptation may help you appreciate it a bit more.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Booknote: Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

I have to admit that I love the title of this book, and to be honest, that fate does not sound too bad. In my case though, I would not want to poison people. I am sure Mr. Nelson, very well cured in Mary Jane, would make a better, more mellow smoke when the time comes. On a serious note, here is my review of his book as I posted it on my GoodReads profile. I am also adding some notes I took after the review.

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die:  Musings From the RoadRoll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road by Willie Nelson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went between two and three stars on this, and in the end went for the third star since I did mostly like it. This is more memoir than his previous book, The Tao of Willie, which I previously read. In a way, it is like sitting with Willie and just letting him reminisce. Some sections are more interesting than others, so the book does lend itself to browsing for the interesting parts. There are some rambling segments too, but overall I think fans will be pleased with this book. Willie does have an opinion on just about anything, and he is happy to share it even as he himself admits that, well, everyone has an opinion. A nice element of the book is that you get members of his family and friends writing about him and sharing memories about him. The book also features photos and some art by one of Willie Nelson's sons. I think the art complements the book nicely.

If you are a fan of Willie Nelson, you will probably like this book. Fans of country music and/or biographies by musicians will probably enjoy it as well.

View all my reviews

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This is a line by Kinky Friedman, who wrote the Foreword to the book. I find that it applies to so many things in life:

"We come to see what we want to see in this world. The same song may have a totally different meaning to different people, and the guy who wrote it may have an entirely different interpretation from any of them" (ix).   

A little humorous wisdom from Willie. It is funny, but I have to say I have met this kind of people once or twice:

"The height of conceit is a flea floating down the river on his back with a hard-on yelling, 'Raise the drawbridge!'" (35). 

In his book, Willie Nelson quotes historian Howard Zinn. This is a quote from Zinn that Willie likes, and I like it as well, so I am jotting it down:

"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders. . . and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves. . . [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem" (qtd. in 39). 

Willie on elected officials:

"Our so-called elected officials will enslave us all unless we grow some big balls and throw all the bastards out who can't seem to remember who it is they actually work for" (50). 

I can certainly agree. I've even said so as well: people need to get a clue and vote out those greedy assholes while we still can vote.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Mount TBR Challenge, or I've got to get this pile of unread books down a bit.

I have a pretty big pile of books to be read (TBR), and I have decided that I need to get a handle on it. So, I saw this Mountain TBR challenge, and I figured that if I took a public challenge, that I would be able to be accountable and thus get the pile down a little bit. The nice thing about this challenge for me is that I do not have to list the titles ahead of time, which is good because I like the flexibility of choosing things at the spur of the moment. One of the areas that I have been adding books to is graphic novels and comics, so on that alone, I could climb up pretty high on Mount TBR, but I will try to keep things balanced with other books. No guarantees on that though. We'll just have to see what I grab to read.

By the way, I still borrow a lot of the stuff I read from my libraries (my college and my local public library), so I should have no problems when it comes to reading a lot and reading broadly.

To be on the safe side, I am committing to the Mount Blanc level, which means I have to read 24 books out of my TBR pile. I am welcome to read more, but I have to do that at least. And given that I am a month and half late, I need to get cracking.  I am not sure if I will list them here (as updates) as I read them, or label them in my end of year list. We'll see.

The challenge was found at My Reader's Block here.You can read the specific rules at the link.