In the film version of Sex and the City, Carrie reads aloud from a book of great love letters by great men. Fans flocked to bookstores to get copies—but the book didn’t exist. Now, in an unusual reversal, pop culture has prompted real interest in these classics and Ursula Doyle has made the book a reality, collecting some of history’s most romantic messages in Love Letters of Great Men. A far cry from the “i luv u” genre of text messages and emails, these dead white men of yore pour out their hearts, their longings, their passions and their peeves, and their words can still bring pitter-patter palpitations to the feistiest of fiercely independent females today. As Anton Lesser reads these extraordinary missives in his mellifluous, British-brushed voice, we hear Beethoven beseeching his “immortal beloved,” Lord Nelson declaring Emma to be his “Alpha and Omega,” Henry VIII admitting to Anne Boleyn that “my heart and I surrender themselves into your hands” (and that just a few years before he had her beheaded in the Tower!), and Byron proclaiming that “I more than love you and cannot to cease love you.” A perfect Valentine gift to give or get.
Lessons not learned
Oh, how I wish that Michael Lewis’ latest, Panic! The Story of Modern Financial Insanity, read by Jesse Boggs and Blair Hardman, were not so timely, so on the mark. Somehow knowing that we’d need his wry humor and clear explanations of financial complexities (he must have been working on this book long before the screaming financial meemies engulfed the globe), Lewis has gathered a collection of articles, including his own, by some of the best interpreters of Wall Street’s maladies to re-create the five recent financial panics, explicate the market factors involved and dramatize how blind most Wall Street wizards were, and still may be, to the hazards of what they do. Lewis begins with the crash of 1987, the start of what he calls “the Age of Financial Unreason, when panic became just another, quotidian aspect of financial life,” goes on to the devaluation of the Thai baht which begat the Russian default on its own treasury bonds which begat the death of a major U.S. hedge fund; the dot-com debacle in 2000; and ends with the “The People’s Panic,” the catastrophe we’re mired in today. In a special, audio-only interview, Lewis adds his current observations—but no cures, except for one’s curiosity.
The Shawl and Rosa, Cynthia Ozick’s extraordinary linked short stories, first published in The New Yorker more than 20 years ago, are now on CD, performed by Yelena Schmulenson, whose emotional accuracy eats into your heart. The Shawl, only four tracks long, is a piercing glance into the horror of the Holocaust as Rosa, a young mother, watches the murder of her toddler, Magda, in a scene of searing pain, grief and loss. Rosa, the longer story, is set 30 years later in Miami where Rosa, now “a madwoman and a scavenger,” lives on handouts from her niece. The present is meaningless to her, the future without reality, all is in the past, in the unsettling landscape of a shattered, unfillably empty life and in a conjured relationship with an imagined Magda, grown and successful, to whom she writes long letters in Polish. But during the two days we spend with Rosa, she meets a man in the laundry who insists on befriending her and who may offer a glimmer of possibility. These stories are small gems, beautifully written, with jabs of colloquial dialogue that evoke this survivor’s angst, anger and yearning.