Mary's Library

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Dance

Wilhelm and I are taking ballroom dancing lessons. Unfortunately, I can’t count to three consistently enough to make my waltz steps predictable and Wilhelm can’t hear the beat of the music. The results verge on hilarious.

But we aren’t letting these handicaps stop us. We have a sock hop every afternoon in the dining room and W is slowly training me to use the preferred foot and to go in the preferred direction. I foresee a breakdown, however, when we try to put this to music.

Dance has long been a powerful metaphor, often used to convey complexity. I searched for books with “dance” in the title; here are some of the results.

I discovered that there are a lot of mysteries with dance in the title. I wonder why that is. There are also a lot of self-help books, mostly for women, about the dance of marriage, the dance of anger, the dance of intimacy.

I came across a trilogy I read a few years ago that fictionalizes the romance between Napoleon and Josephine. “The Josephine Collection” is by Sandra Gulland, and the title of one book contains the word “dance.” The three are THE MANY LIVES AND SECRET SORROWS OF JOSEPHINE B (1995), TALES OF PASSION, TALES OF WOE (1998) and THE LAST GREAT DANCE ON EARTH (2000.) I learned a lot about Josephine, Napoleon, Paris, the French Revolution, and the empire. It’s historical chick lit.

One of the best books I’ve read about Russia is NATASHA’S DANCE: A Cultural History of Russia (2002) by Orlando Figes. The title refers to the dance Natasha does when visiting a relative’s house in the forest in WAR AND PEACE (1869), by Leo Tolstoy. I recommend the Figes book unreservedly. (And the Tolstoy book, too.)

I found a book that was published only yesterday, LAST DANCE: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four (7 Feb 2006), By John Feinstein and Mike Krzyzewski. It’s about the climax of March Madness, i.e., basketball.

I was surprised to discover that the full title of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous book is SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE: Or, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty Dance With Death (1969.) Who knew?

Then there’s the recent history, FIVE POINTS: The 19th Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum (2002), by Tyler Anbinder. This is the dysfunctional culture dramatized in the movie, “Gangs of New York.” I read this book after having read BOSS TWEED: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York (2005), by Kenneth D Ackerman. Both were excellent, as was the movie, despite what the critics say.

And of course there’s Anthony Powell’s set of 12 novels, “A Dance to the Music of Time,” which contains my favorite book title of all time, BOOKS DO FURNISH A ROOM (1971), and what is perhaps my second favorite, CASANOVA’S CHINESE RESTAURANT (1964.) More about Powell's magnum opus later.

I came across a book I read some years ago, MAKING THE MUMMIES DANCE: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1993), by Thomas Hoving, formerly the head of the museum. It is a recounting of the dangers and delights of the antiquities trade.

THE CONGRESS DANCES: Vienna 1814-1815 (1984), by Susana Mary Alsop is the classic book on the Congress of Vienna.

FIRST DANCE OF FREEDOM: Black Africa in the Post-War World (1984), by Martin Meredith is an excellent introduction to the anti-colonial movement after World War II.


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