First Lines: Sophie’s World

There’s at least two ways to look at Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy: as a novel, and as a history of philosophy.

As a history of philosophy, a Philosophy for Dummies, if you will, I think works. It gives a compact overview of how western philosophy evolved in the last three thousand years. (Particularly pleasing was that half of the names mentioned in “Bücher” from Tanz der Vampire were mentioned.)

As a novel, however, I wasn’t particularly impressed, as it has a few issues.

First: the premise of the book is that our titular heroine gets a course in philosophy. It starts with finding large envelopes in the mail, and then progresses to face to face meetings with the teacher, a middle-aged man named Alberto Knox. One would suspect that this sort of thing regularly happened in Norway in the early 1990s, as the girl’s mother is not troubled by any of this. Like, at all. And Sophie? She never really wonders why she gets these letters, she just goes along with it, and gets some new profound insights in the working of the world at the end of every chapter.

Anyway, as long as she gets the letters, the rest of the story doesn’t really get in the way. You can easily skim over it, as it never really adds anything. But when she starts meeting with Alberto, the lessons are turned into a dialogue. Or at least, Alberto talks a lot, and Sophie throws in a couple of interjections to break up what would otherwise be a monologue. Unfortunately, it never really gets to be a dialogue.

And then, a little past the halfway point, when you start to realize that both Sophie and Alberto are extremely flat, awkward and mostly unlikable characters, that all the story between the philosophy mostly gets in the way of the good bits of the book, there’s a plot twist.

*** SPOILERS! ***

It turns out that the story of Sophie learning about philosophy is part of a book called Sophie’s World, is actually a book about philosophy, written by a father for his nearly fifteen-year old daughter. Oh. My. God. I’m all, like,

MTV Pimp My Ride’s Xzibit heard you read a book about philosophy, so he put a book about philosophy in your book about philosophy so you can read about philosophy while you read about philosophy.

Of course, it’s a very corny meta-joke, but it is pulled off wonderfully, and it actually saved most of the book for me. The thing is, in a book that tries to teach about philosophy and asks whether or not you can trust your senses or logic, it makes sense to pull the rug out from under everything. In fact, even you, dear reader, cannot be sure that you’re not just a figment of my imagination. And if you are, what does that actually mean, in the grander scheme of things?

So, wrapping up: as a philosophy primer, Sophie’s World does what it should. As a novel, it has a couple of issues that might want you to throw the towel. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t, as the meta-fiction was quite enjoyable.

Book read
Jostein Gaarder — Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy (Sofies verden: roman om filosofiens historie, translated by Paulette Møller)
First line
Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school.

Seen Live: Bat Out of Hell — Das Musical

Last night, Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell — The Musical had its final West End performance. The the US tour is, well, what it is.

But don’t be sad: Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out of Hell” — Das Musical mit den Welthits von Meat Loaf, the German production currently running at the Stage Metronom Theater in Oberhausen, is every bit as good, and definitely worth visiting.

Sure, they’ve translated even the songs to German, and Oberhausen might not be as exciting to visit as London, or Toronto, or New York (or even Manchester), but give it a try.

Scene from Bat Out of Hell The Musical: Strat is singing on top of a motorbike, with a group of dancers behind him.

First off: the cast is excellent. Robin Reitsma is perfectly fine as Strat, Willemijn Verkaik is a huge star and, personally, it’s a shame she can’t show how good she really is until she completely nails “Wo tut mir der Schmerz am meisten weh” (the German “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most”) halfway through the second act, and Alex Melcher isn’t a slouch either. (Fun fact: Melcher was the original understudy for Alfred in the 1997 Vienna production of Tanz der Vampire — but then there are like ten Tanz-alumni in the cast.) Special shout out to Bathoni Puplampu, who played Zahara. She’s got pretty big shoes to fill, but she did it.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the show is self-indulgently spectacular. It has the same set as the West End production, it has all the dancing and all the pyro and all the special effects and all the confetti — Oh. My. God. All that confetti. And most importantly, the music is exactly the same and just as good as ever. But the words are in German.

German language version of “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”

Now, as far as I can judge, the translation is excellent. There’s great stuff in there, and they didn’t make the mistake of trying to stay all too close to the English lyrics. For example, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” becomes “For You It’s Always Two Against One” when translated back. That might not be exactly the same sentiment, but it does get the meaning of the song across.

(Aside: I can understand German fans being a bit apprehensive about hearing these songs you love in your own language. I had the same feelings about the Flemish production of Tanz, but that worked out okay for me.)

My German isn’t actually that good (the only failing mark I ever took home on a report card, thank you very much), but I can follow it well enough. And while I have to admit that most of the dialogue went completely past me, that didn’t matter much. You see, because I wasn’t really getting what was being said, I just had to follow the emotion. And Holy Sweet Mother of All Things Bright and Shiny, the emotions. Bat — Das Musical gave me *all* the feels. Goosebumps, sobbing, exultation, triumph, the whole damn range of ‘em. We said as much to Robin Reitsma after the show at the stage door, and he thought that high praise.

All in all: Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out of Hell” — Das Musical mit den Welthits von Meat Loaf is every bit as good as the now closed London production, and you should not think twice about seeing it. Tickets are available from the official website.

Seen live
Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out of Hell” — Das Musical mit den Welthits von Meat Loaf at Stage Metronom Theater, Oberhausen, Germany on December 29, 2018 (evening show)
Cast
Strat: Robin Reitsma / Raven: April van Amelsvoort / Falco: Alex Melcher / Sloane: Willemijn Verkaik / Tink: Tom van der Ven / Zahara: Bathoni Puplampu / Jagwire: Benet Monteiro / Ledoux: Antonio Calanna / Blake: Gonzalo Campos Lopez
Ensemble
Maureen Mac Gillavry, Jessica Lapp, Jolijn van de Pol, Ida Linnéa Svanberg, Karen Walker, Bethany Terry, Masengu Kanyinda, Hedi Leonhardt, Charlie Knight, René Becker, Luca Maus, Tarquin White, Sander van Wissen, and Rhys George
Orchestra
Orchester des Metronom Theaters, conducted by Thomas Lorey

So, Let Me Tell You About My Plans for 2019

On Tuesday, October 16th, 2018 I went in for a routine CT-scan of my aorta. Three days later I went and got the results. There were complications: the stent they placed two years ago was not quite doing its job, resulting in a increased diameter of my aorta a little further down, and a remainder of the previous dissection all the way down from there. So they were sending the scans through to the team of cardio-vascular and thorax surgeons for further examination.

Without them saying as much, it was pretty clear to me how this was going to end.

For six weeks, nothing much happened but waiting for the appointment where they would tell us what they found. And then, as not much of a surprise, they confirmed that surgery (of the crack-your-chest-open, put-you-on-ice, put-in-some-medical-grade-garden-hose and start-you-back-up-again kind) was indeed the only viable option. So, in two weeks’ time, I’m scheduled for a round of tests so they can plan the whole operation, and set a date for it.

To say I’m not looking forward to doing this whole song and dance again would be a bit of an understatement.

But do I have a choice? Not really.

As you can imagine, this news has left us a bit preoccupied and, to be honest, quite worried. Looking back, I don’t think that I’ve ever fully recovered from the last round. But fixing the upper-most complication should allow the others to either improve on their own, or at least make them harmless enough until I’m up for another round in a couple of years time, it should improve my quality of life significantly. Or that’s the theory.

Now, people ask me how I’m doing, considering all this. All I can do, is say that I don’t actually feel any of this — it doesn’t, like, hurt or anything; that this is a major disappointment that I could very well have done without for another twenty-something years; that I am not looking forward to this, but that we’re gonna do this anyway. People don’t often ask The Missus how she’s doing in all this, but for her it’s no walk in the park either.

This whole thing put a serious damper on the last two and a half months, and once again we’re held hostage by it. You probably wouldn’t believe how things have a habit of circling back to it. You have to talk and think about things you don’t even want to be thinking about, and man, that’s such a downer when you’re as emotionally stable as I am. And then there’s all the stuff you don’t even want to have to think about, because, well, they’re gonna crack me open and cut out a piece of my aorta and let me first worry about that and survive that for a bit over that before I can even start to care about your fuckin first-world-champagne-problems.

But what’d-ya-gonna do?

You just keep going, because what else can you do but show up on time and lay down and let it all happen? And yes, I know that’s the completely rational approach that ignores most of the other stuff, but it’s all I got right now that keeps me from degenerating into a messy puddle of complete uselessness.

So, yeah. That’s about it for my plans for 2019, and I sincerely hope you have better ones.

2018 in Review

How was 2018? On the whole, not too bad. We didn’t do a big holiday on account of having bought a house last year, but managed to squeeze in a couple of smaller trips. The Missus graduated. Boy Wonder did as well. Thing went along nicely, with me not being hospitalized all year. My Firefox add-on got a few updates and bug fixes, so all in all — pretty good, and that’s fine with me.

On to my media diet.

The List of Books I’ve Read This Year

  1. Neil Gaiman — The Graveyard Book (2018-12-05—2018-12-15)
  2. Stephen King — Elevation (2018-11-30—2018-12-03)
  3. Neil Gaiman — The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2018-10-23—2018-12-03)
  4. Haruki Murakami — Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (2018-10-08—2018-11-30)
  5. Luc Standaert — Ellen Foley: Stop Right There! (2018-10-05)
  6. John Green — Turtles All the Way Down (2018-09-20—2018-10-23)
  7. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett — Good Omens (2018-08-28—2018-10-04)
  8. John Green — The Fault in Our Stars (2018-08-15—2018-09-20)
  9. Funny Horror, edited by Alex Shvartsman (2018-08-15—2018-08-28)
  10. Stephen King — Laurie (2018-08-13)
  11. George Saunders — Lincoln in the Bardo (2018-08-01—2018-08-12)
  12. Angie Thomas — The Hate U Give (2018-07-27—2018-07-31)
  13. Funny Science Fiction, edited by Alex Shvartsman (2018-07-16—2018-07-26)
  14. Funny Fantasy, edited by Alex Shvartsman (2018-07-06—2018-07-16)
  15. John Green and David Levithan — Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2018-06-29—2018-08-15)
  16. Mark Dunn — Ibid: A Life (2018-06-13—2018-07-05)
  17. Richard Bachman — The Regulators (2018-05-22—2018-06-12)
  18. John Green — Paper Towns (2018-05-xx—2018-06-28)
  19. Stephen King — Desperation (2018-04-24—2018-05-21)
  20. John Green — An Abundance of Katherines (2018-04-10—2018-05-xx)
  21. Stephen King & Owen King — Sleeping Beauties (2018-03-31—2018-04-23)
  22. John Green — Looking for Alaska (2018-03-19—2018-04-09)
  23. Neil Gaiman / Lorenzo Mattotti — Hansel & Gretel (2018-03-15—2018-03-18)
  24. Neil Gaiman (et al) — The Sandman Overture (2018-02-25—2018-03-15)
  25. Hugo Claus — Het verdriet van België (2018-02-09—2018-04-29)
  26. Joe Hill — Strange Weather: Four Short Stories (2018-01-22—2017-02-08)
  27. Philip Pullman — The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage (2018-01-15—2018-01-21)
  28. Paul van Loon — Dolfje Weerwolfje
    • Dolfje, niet bijten (2018-01-10)
    • Het nachtmerrieneefje (2018-01-10)
    • Weerwolvenbos (2018-01-09—2018-01-10)
    • Zilvertand (2018-01-08)
  29. Dominee Gremdaat — Wijst de weg naar een prettige overgang (2018-01-04—2018-01-06)
  30. Dominee Gremdaat — Kent u die uitdrukking? De beste preken van dominee Gremdaat. (2018-01-03)
  31. Neil Gaiman — The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction (2017-12-07—2018-01-02)
  32. Neil Gaiman (et al) — The Sandman (Volumes 1-10) (2017-10-04—2018-02-24)

This year, I finished 35 books. Favorites include Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King, and Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give. Het verdriet van België and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World didn’t do much for me.

Fourteen books on the list I have read before. In some cases, well over 10 years ago. It was interesting to see how the changes in my life since then have changed my interpretation, and sometimes, appreciation of these books.

For completeness’ sake, I am about halfway through both Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World and Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle.

The List of Performances I’ve Seen This Year

  1. — Jim Steinman’s “Bat Out of Hell” – Das Musical mit den Welthits von Meat Loaf, Stage Metronom Theater am Centro, Oberhausen, Germany
  2. Daniël Lohues, “Elektrisch” + Marlene Bakker, Patronaat, Haarlem
  3. a balladeer, FLUOR Cafe, Amersfoort
  4. Symfonieorkest Koninklijk Conservatorium & Codarts, conducted by Thomas Goff & Ivan Hut, with Karen Su (violin), TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht
    • Sergei PROKOFIEV — Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34bis
    • Sergei PROKOFIEV — Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
    • Sergei PROKOFIEV — Scythian Suite, Op. 20
  5. Daniël Lohues, “Vlier”, Koninklijke Schouwburg, Den Haag
  6. Shirma Rouse, Amersfoort Jazz
  7. Like a Bat Out of Hell: The ‘The Rock and Roll Dreams’ Concert, Hedon, Zwolle
  8. Record Store Day: Wende, Velvet Amersfoort
  9. Klein Kunst Koor: Crossing Borders, Lutherse Kerk, Gluren bij de buren Amersfoort
  10. Like a Bat Out of Hell: The ‘The Rock and Roll Dreams’ Concert, FLUOR, Amersfoort

This year, I saw one more show than in 2017. My favorite is quite clear: Bat Out of Hell — Das Musical is every bit as good as the English version. Both Daniël Lohues shows were excellent, and a balladeer is always great.

The List of Places Where I’ve Spent the Night This Year

And still: no hospital. As I said, we didn’t have a big holiday, but the trips to Maastricht and Antwerp were especially nice.

The List of Museums and Other Attractions I’ve Visited This Year

  1. — Fries Museum, Leeuwarden (Rembrandt & Saskia: Liefde in de Gouden Eeuw)
  2. — Kattenkabinet, Amsterdam
  3. — Paleis op de Dam, Amsterdam
  4. — Teylersmuseum, Haarlem (Leonardo da Vinci)
  5. — Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort (A Balancing Act)
  6. — Fluweelengrot & Kasteelruïne Valkenburg
  7. — Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Plantin-Moretusmuseum, Rubenshuis, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Snijders&Rockoxhuis, ZOO Antwerpen
  8. Dierenpark Amersfoort

The List of Movies I’ve Seen in Cinemas

  1. Mortal Engines (****)
  2. Sneak Preview: Anna and the Apocalypse (***)
  3. Ralph Breaks the Internet (****)
  4. A Star is Born (***)
  5. Bohemian Rhapsody (****)
  6. Sneak Preview: Robin Hood (***)
  7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (****)
  8. Bad Times at the El Royale (***)
  9. Sneak Preview: Mile 22 (*)
  10. Walt Disney’s Robin Hood (****)
  11. Sneak Preview: A Simple Favor (****)
  12. Sneak Preview: Catacombe (***)
  13. Sneak Preview: Papillion (****)
  14. The Spy Who Dumped Me (***)
  15. Sneak Preview: Searching (****)
  16. The Darkest Minds (**)
  17. Sneak Preview: BlacKkKlansman (*****)
  18. Incredibles 2 (***)
  19. Jurassic World 2: The Lost Kingdom (***)

Sometime this year, we got a pass to the local cinema. Pay to see two movies a month, and get the rest for free. Which means that going to a sneak preview (where you don’t know what you’re going to see until the movie starts) is less of a big deal, so we did that a lot. The first sneak we saw, BlacKkKlansman, was easily the most impressive movie I’ve seen this year. A lot of others were very good as well (four stars), or quite entertaining silver-screen fluff (***).

What I’ve Done from My List of 100 Things

  1. #31: Have an (accidental) month-long blogging streak.
  2. #67: Read books from my list of 40 books to read before my 40th birthday before my 40th birthday:
    1. Hugo Claus — Het verdriet van België
    2. Mark Dunn — Ibid: A Life
  3. #8: Contribute to an open-source project.

That month-long blogging streak was an attempt to force me to write more, which then of course didn’t happen. As I am about to turn 39 in two weeks, I have little over a year left for the final three and a half books on that list. With both Paradise Lost and The Odyssey left, I have some serious reading to do.

So, that’s it. Stay safe, and please tune in next year for more.

First Lines: The Graveyard Book (re-read)

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The hand belonged to a man named Jack, and the knife just killed a father, a mother and a sister. It did not kill the little boy, who managed to escape to the nearby graveyard, where he was raised by the ghosts of that place, and a vampire guardian.

Since I first read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book 10 years ago, I have also read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book(s), which Gaiman has said was somewhat of an inspiration. And I can see that, much like the stories in The Jungle Book, each chapter in The Graveyard Book can stand on its own. (In fact, chapter four, “The Witch’s Headstone” was published as a short story a year before the novel came out.)

In each chapter, we see that the young boy — now called Nobody ‘Bod’ Owens — has grown a year or two, and he has an adventure. At first, they’re quaint little affairs — befriending a living girl and visiting an ancient tomb far below the cemetery; being captured by ghouls and outwitting them; arranging a headstone for a witch — but as Bod grows up, it slowly becomes more serious, like dancing the macabray with the Grey Lady, or going to school. Finally, all the story threads come together in the final showdown, where Bod has to defeat the man Jack and his buddies all by himself.

If not for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book would probably be my favorite Gaiman book. It’s clearly aimed at younger readers, and the story is fairly straight-forward, but it just tugs at my heart in all the right ways.

Book read
Neil Gaiman — The Graveyard Book
First line
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.