Friday, July 25, 2008

Culture 101

In today's busy world, who has time to develop into a true Renaissance Man? Much like watching our cholesterol and ingesting antioxidants, we know that there are books we are supposed to read and movies we are supposed to watch. If only there was a way to pick and choose - a way to select the most interesting 'classics' to squeeze into our schedules.
Well, by golly, there is! The Rough Guide to Classic Novels: from Don Quixote to American Pastoral by Simon Mason and The Rough Guide to Film: an A-Z of directors and their movies by Richard Armstrong et al. will help you find the best books and films to liven up your dinner-table talk.
Mason presents 229 novels from 36 countries spanning four centuries of literary endeavor, and he has selected them with an eye towards their enjoyability. He groups them according to their broad theme (rites of passage, families, satire, etc.) and then alphabetically by author. Following a brief plot synopsis and literary critique, he then includes helpful items such as Recommended translation, Where to go next, and Screen adaptation. This is a really helpful book for anyone who is looking for an entertaining Great Novel, and for anyone who is trying to badger their kids into reading some college-prep materials (good luck!)
The film guide is truly an encyclopedia, which makes for difficult reading cover-to-cover. However, it begins and ends with two helpful lists that balances out the dry encyclopedic form. The first section is composed of lists based on theme and geography; under each heading the reader will find 5 Great Directors, 5 Essential Classics, and 5 Lesser-Known Gems (each with the appropriate page number for cross-reference). Africa, Cinematography, Epics, Period Drama, and War are some of the available categories to guide the film watcher. The end of the book contains an alphabetical list of films reviewed within the guide - you can find the directors, and watch more of their movies. So the next time you're hankering for a good French film, or a film with a great score, let this book be your Rough Guide.

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