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This week: Summer Reading, Dance at Socrates, and the Abduction From The Seraglio.
Fiction: Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay Books): It is said that houseguests, like fish, begin to stink after three days. Though good novels have a longer half-life than either of the above, summer lends itself to the slim text, just as it does to fresh fish on the grill. Humor, lightness, and delicacy are the order of the summer day, and though set in rainy Wales, Evelyn Waugh’s early satire of desultory life in a provincial boarding school fits the bill. Short enough to finish before the guests depart, it can serve as a welcome respite from the ongoing requests for “more ice” and “clean towels.” Reading Decline and Fall is certainly a better alternative to finding oneself “in the soup,” like the unforgettable Captain Grimes; that the book turns in at just over three hundred pages (not nearly as slim as I had thought) is a testament to the breeziness of Waugh’s then-nascent prose and the book’s ability to captivate. —BR
Nonfiction: Accidents of Fortune, by Andrew Cavendish (Michael Russell Publishing): Anglophiles of the World, Unite! Accidents of Fortune, a slender, companionable volume by Andrew Cavendish, aka Andrew Devonshire, the eleventh Duke of that name, is the perfect late-summer entertainment. Published in 2004, just weeks after His Grace’s death at 84, the book covers all but one of the Duke’s major passions: politics, books, art, horse racing (“Straw,” his colors, are the oldest registered on the Turf), charities of various sorts, and above all Chatsworth, perhaps the most stately of English Stately Homes, whose 300 rooms, extensive gardens, superb library and art collections, and thousands upon thousands of acres of surrounding grounds and pleasances make it one of the crown jewels of English Baroque architecture. It’s been home to the Cavendish family since 1549. Andrew’s ascension to the title was due to a sniper’s bullet, which killed his older brother Billy in 1944. I met the Duke only once, towards the end of his life. He instantly impressed me as a charming, well-mannered, unassuming man of the world—exactly the character that peeps out of these quiet but cultured and well-written pages. Andy, as I would not have dared to address him, seems to have been almost universally beloved. A spirit of decorous gratitude for all that fortune had brought him suffuses these pages, and a most attractive spirit it is. I first became aware of him through his association with Heywood Hill, the great London bookshop in which he had a controlling interest. The comic novelist Nancy Mitford, his sister-in-law, famously worked there during the war (there is a Blue Plaque to commemorate her tenure). I was lunching once with an English friend at Brooks’s when he confessed that he was something of a “cluboholic.” He currently belonged to twelve London clubs, he explained, and was just about to join a thirteenth, Pratt’s, just around the corner and owned by the Duke of Devonshire. To save confusion, he continued, one addressed the staff indiscriminately as “George.” “That’s so English,” I thought, a contention that another English friend confirmed when, hearing about Pratt’s, he remarked that “At the Beefsteak we call them all Charles.” This fact is completely irrelevant to the subject of this agreeable book but telling it allowed me to defer mentioning the one great interest of the eleventh Duke missing from his memoir: his avid, not to say notorious, interest in, and pursuit of the opposite sex. —RK
Poetry: Yeats2015 (Through December 31, 2015): Some writers get only a single day each year for the public to celebrate their lasting cultural achievement; others get none. In truth, I was unaware until recently of the existence of “Yeats Day,” which commemorates the legacy of Ireland’s foremost modernist poet. But 2015 is a special year for Yeats, being the 150th anniversary of his birth. And so “Yeats Day” has been expanded to “Yeats Year,” or as the Irish tourism authorities have it, Yeats2015. With a full schedule of events from art exhibitions to interpretative dance through the end of December, anyone with an abiding interest in Yeats should find something to capture his interest. But with all the events taking place in Ireland, the only way to experience Yeats2015 in person is to slouch towards Sligo, as it were. —BR
Dance: “Dance at Socrates” at the Socrates Sculpture Park (Through August 22): This Saturday is your last chance of the summer to see “Dance at Socrates.” The free, open-air resident dance festival at Socrates Sculpture Park along the East River in Long Island City, Queens, now in its third season, is produced by the newly minted Cypress Hills art nonprofit Norte Maar. This final week features new work by Meagan Woods & Co. and Julia K. Gleich, the organizer of the festival, with an appropriately artful dance inspired by the paintings of Jack Tworkov. —JP
Music: Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio), by W. A. Mozart, performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe: I’ve been a little unkind to Mozart lately—but a new album from Deutsche Grammophon gives us a fresh take on one of his first major successes, the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). Diana Damrau leads the cast as Konstanze, taking on one of the most difficult roles in the coloratura repertoire, including the infamous show-aria "Martern aller Arten." Rolando Villazón plays opposite as her beloved Belmonte, and the superb Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. —ECS
From the archive: Yeats revisited, by C. H. Sisson: Though Yeats Day has passed, the namesake’s year is ongoing. As such, we present C. H. Sisson’s 1989 review of the first volume of Yeats’s Collected Works.
From our latest issue: Exhibition note, by Mario Naves: On “Trenton Doyle Hancock: Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing” at the Studio Museum, Harlem.