What We’re Loving: Janácek, Cooke, and Literary Booze


This Week’s Reading

My brother-in-law described First Position as Spellbound without the hard words. He meant that in a good way. This story of six kids in training for an international ballet competition is just as touching and absorbing—and almost as funny—as Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 documentary about the national spelling bee. —Lorin Stein

I saw Janáček’s The Makropulos Case on Saturday, and three-plus hours standing has never gone by so quickly. Based on Karel Čapek’s popular 1922 play of the same name (sidenote: Čapek gave us the word robot as we know it), it’s the tragicomic tale of a labyrinthian legal case, a man-eating diva, and the elixir of life. (Intimations of the decline of European aristocracy are in there, too.) The score—and the chatty libretto, for that matter—stand alone, but Karita Mattila’s performance (in what is considered one of the toughest soprano showcases) is worth seeing. —Sadie Stein

Hemingway & Bailey’s Bartending Guide to Great American Writers not only instructs us on how to get tipsy (or rip-roaring drunk) on William Faulkner’s favorite mintjuleps or Raymond Chandler’s companion gimlet, it also offers us whimsical fodder for our perfect boozy daydreams: “Imagine a warm summer evening out on the shore of Long Island—say a party at Gatsby’s house, the bartenders serving up light, refreshing Gin Rickeys as the jazz band swings.” Yes, please! (Drinking stories and famous imbibing passages included.) —Elizabeth Nelson

For fans of Soviet-era sci-fi, Olena Bormashenko’s new translation of Russian classic Roadside Picnic is being published this month. The book was originally written by brothers Arkady and Boris Stugatsky in the 1970s, but took eight years to get past Soviet censors unscathed and has been out of print in the English for three decades. Now it’s finally back on the shelves, and judging by the praise Bormashenko has received for her work, it’s in excellent shape. The hero of Picnic is a “stalker,” or a go-to guy in the black market of alien technologies that appeared on Earth after the perplexing and ancient “Visit.” And yes, it is the “stalker” of Roadside Picnic that served as inspiration for the spellbinding film by Andrei Tarkovsky. —Allison Bulger

Sam Cooke—Greatest Hits: Here is a singer too often overlooked in the great expanse of pop classics. You can have your ol’ blue eyes, I’ve got nothing against him. You can have your Bing and your Brown. All I need is a little bit o’ Cooke. I’ve been listening to this CD every minute of every day. Though blatantly missing “(Ain’t That) Good News,” it makes up for it in the lounge jazz beats of “Win Your Love” and the eerily foreboding “Frankie and Johnny.” The song ends with Frankie shooting Johnny over a misunderstanding. Cooke died at thirty-three under similar circumstances. —Noah Wunsch