December 30, 2021


Undivided Inattention: A “Zits” Treasury. By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.

The Scott and Borgman team at Zits
Continues giving readers fits
Of laughter at the daily life
Of teenage Jeremy: what strife
Befalls our hero day by day
As mundane matters take away
The time that he would rather spend
With music, pizza and a friend.
With Undivided Inattention
The humor's far too much to mention
As artist Jim and writer Jerry
Find oh-so-many scenes so merry
That they must give each one a twist
So readers quickly get the gist
Of modern teens who multitask:
Mom Connie needs to go and ask
Dad Walt how Jeremy can stand
To do so much
an extra hand
Or two would seem to be required.
And sure enough, what is desired
Appears in Borgman's first-rate art:
Four-handed Jeremy can start
On chicken, chips and music, work
At reading screens and books, not shirk
The many things he has to do.
He works a real job sometimes, too.
He calls the restaurant a puttock
(Means "bird of prey" and rhymes with buttock)
Because its theme's the Middle Ages.
And readers see, on other pages,
That sometimes Zits turns more attention
To ages past, as with the mention
Of ancient hieroglyphs required
To write for snail mail; and, inspired
By Hannibal in days of old
Are Jeremy and Hector, bold
To trek from distant parking spaces
With snow and wind upon their faces.

Since 1997, Zits
Has shown teens giving parents fits.
But little bits of shared affection
Solidify the strip's direction

As when mom Connie gives a call
To Jeremy, who's super tall,
To say his height is off the chart
But he'll fit always in her heart.
The warmth's a welcome intervention
In Undivided Inattention,
For Scott and Borgman know and show
The easy laugh's no way to go

At least not often. Better far
To show teens angsty as they are:
Exaggerated, it is true,
But teens in Zits are people, too.
And so are parents. All the strife
Of kids and grown-ups comes from life

In which, in any time and weather,
We're better if we stick together.


Kaleidomorphia. By Kerby Rosanes. Plume. $14.

Coloring the Zodiac. By Christina Haberkern. Plume. $14.

How a King Plays: 64 Chess Tips from a Kid Champion. By Oliver Boydell. Random House. $9.99.

     Some books undebatably target their audiences with remarkable precision: you know the minute you look at them that they are perfect for you and you can’t wait to open them – or, alternatively, that you would never read them even if someone gave them to you as a gift and included a bonus inducement, such as a nice bookmark. Thus, Kaleidomorphia is a book for people who want to add color to Kerby Rosanes’ fanciful, complex renditions of animals, landscapes, animals that turn into landscapes, landscapes that turn into animals, and fantasy settings of all sorts. Not interested in coloring? This one is absolutely not for you – even though some of the pages are colored already, by some very talented artists (Nadia Mejiri, Lauren Farnsworth, Angeline Black, Élodie Petit, Laila Heldal, and others). This is a book for Rosanes’ fans, and more generally for fans of wondrous worlds that never existed but that can be brought vividly to life through the imagination of artists – and even more vividly when colorists add their talents to those of the original creator. It is easy to plunge immediately into the drawings here, which are taken from previous Rosanes books including Animorphia, Imagimorphia, Mythomorphia, Fantomorphia, Geomorphia, and Wondermorphia – get the pattern? However, if you are looking for some guidance on ways to color the highly detailed black-and-white pages – that is, some reasons to do them in specific colors rather than more or less at random – you can use the comments on the already-colored pages as a guide. In one place, there is a “bold yet restricted color scheme, based around magenta and bright-yellow tones.” Elsewhere, there are “complementary blues and pinks.” Then there is “dramatic contrast of light and dark tones.” And a “rich, night-sky background that enables the vibrant colors to pop.” And so on. Looking at the colored pages and reading what was done to give them their particular appearances may help guide you on your own journey into Rosanes’ intricately imagined, often very beautiful, generally mystical and sometimes downright peculiar worlds. But the key here is that this is a participatory book: it is not enough to page through it if you are seeking its full effect – you have to become part of it by bringing your own sense of color and style to the many intriguing, bizarre and beautiful portrayals of fantastic animals and strange scenes, from monumental giraffes whose horns are gigantic trees that support a complex ecology, to a grinning skull surrounded and bedecked by butterflies.

     A simpler book with the same basic targeting – that is, for colorists only – is Christina Haberkern’s Coloring the Zodiac. The title says it all, or at least most of it: the book marches through the 12 signs of the Zodiac, offering a chance to color various drawings associated with each sign, sometimes including quotations (rather oddly chosen ones, however) in addition to pictorial matter. The Zodiac signs get the more-or-less expected art on some pages – a crab for Cancer, twins facing opposite ways for Gemini, and so on – and also get some “I” pages that are a bit harder to figure out. For Aries (the ram) the words are “I am,” while for Taurus (the bull) they are “I have,” for Leo (the lion) they are “I will,” and for Scorpio (the scorpion) they are “I desire.” The connection of these words with the specific signs is less than apparent. The value of some of the chosen quotations is arguable, too. Not all the signs get them, so clearly Haberkern selects only comments (and commenters) she considers especially worthy. Um, well….she quotes Britney Spears for Sagittarius: “I don’t like defining myself. I just am.” And for Taurus, she quotes rapper Lizzo (Melissa Jefferson) offering the run-on, semi-literate sentence, “You know you a star, you can touch the sky.” It is logical to assume that Coloring the Zodiac is thus aimed at people who deem comments such as Lizzo’s and Spears’ to be profound – and that very definitely limits the target audience for the book. Actually, the age range for which the book is intended is difficult to pin down on the basis of the quotations: for Capricorn, Haberkern quotes Betty White’s remark, “You’re never too old for anything.” The words are given in outline form, so they are among the book’s elements available for coloring. But it is fair to say the main attraction here is not the verbiage. The symbols for the various signs are the most-complex drawings in the book, although none approximates the detail of Kerby Rosanes’ work. Still, the bow-and-arrow for Sagittarius, the goat with mermaid’s tail for Capricorn, and the highly decorated scales for Libra are all attractive, and all offer enjoyable coloring opportunities. But it is hard to escape the oddity of a book that seems to think it profound, for Aquarius, to quote, um, Paris Hilton (“Life is too short to blend in”). This is certainly a book that will be instantly attractive to some people and equally instantly unattractive to others.

     The visceral attraction of Kaleidomorphia and Coloring the Zodiac is primarily an emotional one. The attraction of How a King Plays is, on the other hand, strictly intellectual. This is a book about chess by a chess master – a young chess master, Oliver Boydell, born as recently as 2009. But make no mistake: the word to emphasize when reading this book is master rather than young. The book may be intended for youthful chess devotees (it is officially recommended for ages 10 and above), but its clear, plainspoken, experience-based chess tips are suitable for players of all ages. You are never too old (and rarely too young) to learn more about chess, and the age of the person teaching you is flat-out irrelevant. Chess itself, on the other hand, is not irrelevant: if you do not play it, and play it with a certain level of focus, intensity and concentration, this book is not for you. In fact, you might not even understand it if you did decide to try to read it. Among the 64 tips offered by Boydell, for example, is to “keep your fianchettoed Bishop,” and if that means nothing to you, you are not in this book’s audience. Boydell also says you should “play for active Rooks. Winning game plans seldom require passive Rooks.” And: “You have a Pawn majority when you have more Pawns on consecutive files than your opponent does.” And so on. You need to know the verbiage as well as the basics of chess to have any interest at all in How a King Plays. And that means, incidentally, knowing that Boydell’s chess ranking does not show him to be an ultra-exceptional player or destined for greatness: quite a few even-younger players are ranked higher. However, he may have something going for him as an author: this is his second book, following He’s Got Moves. The point, though, is that if chess interests you deeply, if you play it every chance you get and are always looking for ways to improve and for advice from a very advanced (if not absolute top-of-the-heap) player, then you are in the target audience for How a King Plays. If chess does not captivate you, nothing in this book will – certainly not the matter-of-fact jargon that Boydell employs throughout and expects all his readers to understand at a glance. If this book is for you, you know it immediately. If not, you know that just as well, and just as quickly.


Sibelius: Lemminkäinen in Tuonela; Leevi Madetoja: Kullervo; Uuno Klami: Kalevala Suite; Tauno Pylkkänen: Kullervo Goes to War. Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dima Slobodeniouk. BIS. $19.99 (SACD).

Saint-Saëns: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 3; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; Havanaise; Romance, Op. 48; “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from “Samson et Dalila.” Jinjoo Cho, violin; Appassionato conducted by Mathieu Herzog. Naïve. $16.99.

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen; Respighi: Il Tramonto; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht. Adèle Charvet, mezzo-soprano; Appassionato conducted by Mathieu Herzog. Naïve. $16.99.

     Having been under Russian rule since 1809, Finland was by mid-century chafing at oppression and ready to begin asserting its own national consciousness. The appearance of the Kalevala in 1849 (in its final, extended form, after a shorter, earlier version that dates to 1835) became a rallying point for Finnish artists, although it was only half a century later, with the emergence of the Swedish-speaking Sibelius as the grand champion of Finnish music, that Elias Lönnrot’s compilation of poems finally came into its own. Names from the Kalevala are now widely known, even if the specific legends are not: Kullervo and Lemminkäinen are invariably thought of as mythic Finnish heroes, although in fact their stories are darker, more nuanced and less one-dimensionally heroic than many people who know only their names realize. It is very intriguing to hear the ways in which different composers have thought about and illustrated elements of the Kalevala, and the new BIS recording featuring the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Dima Slobodeniouk is a fascinating journey indeed. The works here date to the period from 1897 to 1943, with the earliest being Sibelius’ Lemminkäinen in Tuonela – heard here in the world première recording of its 1897 revision, which is shorter than the 1895 version and omits the harp. This movement of the Lemminkäinen Suite illustrates the strangest story: seeking to kill the Swan of Tuonela (whose musical portrayal is the suite’s best-known movement), Lemminkäinen is himself killed and dismembered – then reassembled by his mother and returned to life. Evocative and told on a suitably large scale, Lemminkäinen in Tuonela neatly traverses territory from the spooky to the heroic. It is not, however, the main attraction of this very well-recorded SACD, because what rivets a listener’s attention is the way the other three, less-known Finnish composers handle material so long and intimately associated with Sibelius as well as with Finland itself. Single-movement works, essentially concert overtures, by Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947) and Tauno Pylkkänen (1918-1980), do not try to replicate the broad approach of Sibelius, although Madetoja’s Kullervo clearly shows Sibelius’ influence in its orchestration and dramatic structure. Pylkkänen’s Kullervo Goes to War, in fact written in wartime (1942), is also suitably dramatic and has near-operatic textures and gestures: Pylkkänen, a student of Madetoja, was later to become known primarily for his operas. But if the works of Sibelius, Madetoja and Pylkkänen have noticeable (and audible) similarities in their treatment of the Kalevala, the suite by Uuno Klami (1900-1961) shows the possibility of a different direction. This five-movement, half-hour work, written in 1933 and revised a decade later, was musically inspired less by Sibelius than by Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. In fact, its opening movement, Maan synty (The Creation of the Earth), sounds remarkably like the opening of Stravinsky’s ballet – although the other movements develop in different directions, while retaining some of Stravinsky’s mixture of orchestral opulence and rhythmic angularity. Especially interesting is the tender but somewhat gloomy fourth movement, Kehtolaulu Lemminkäiselle (Cradle Song for Lemminkäinen), which captures the mood of much of the Kalevala very effectively. Taken as a whole, this disc shows both the importance of the Kalevala to the national identity of Finland – which did not become an independent nation until 1918 – and the work’s importance to the country’s musical development.

     The pieces on two new Naïve CDs featuring Mathieu Herzog and the ensemble he founded in 2015, Appassionato, have less of overt nationalism about them, but all show particular ways in which national traditions and the music that flows from them continue to have an impact on performances and audience perceptions. There is poise, delicacy and a fine sense of balance between solo and ensemble on the all-Saint-Saëns disc featuring violinist Jinjoo Cho. Saint-Saëns’ music has an immediately identifiable aural palette whose coloration is distinctly French as well as being indicative of the composer’s unique style. The justly famous quotation, “I make music as an apple tree makes apples,” really does point to the ease with which pieces of all sorts flowed from Saint-Saëns – and helps explain his unwillingness to attach himself to the developments that become prominent in his later life and flowed more from Germanic than French thinking. There is something operatic about much of Saint-Saëns’ instrumental music, which makes the arrangement on this disc of a Samson et Dalila aria for violin and viola (the latter played by Caroline Donin) a particularly interesting encore after fine performances of music that is generally well-known. The first and third violin concertos make for an interesting contrast, the first (actually written second) more overtly virtuosic and the third altogether subtler. It is in the third concerto that the pairing of Cho and Herzog really shines, the work’s melodiousness and carefully balanced impressionism playing out beautifully between soloist and ensemble and within the ensemble itself: Appassionato, a chamber orchestra, brings to all this music the sound of an enlarged chamber group whose give-and-take is worthy of the personal nature of smaller, more-intimate cohorts. Elements of French temperament as well as of Saint-Saëns’ own compositional predilections abound on this disc, with plenty of panache in the display pieces – the familiar Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is genuinely fiery – but with considerable tenderness in evidence as well. There is something about hearing a very fine French ensemble playing Saint-Saëns’ music that brings out French sensibilities in the works – and that applies even with a Korean violinist, indicating that the national character of this music is only one part of its significance and attractiveness.

     Herzog and Appassionato actually have no difficulty with repertoire beyond that of France, and less trouble than Saint-Saëns himself had with the concept of pushing to and even beyond the limits of tonality. This is clear from Appassionato’s idiomatic and very well-structured performances of music by Richard Strauss, Respighi and Schoenberg. The surprise on this CD is the least-known work, Respighi’s Il Tramonto, which dates to 1918 and offers a poem called “The Sunset” by Percy Bysshe Shelley in a setting for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra (or string quartet plus double bass). The poem itself is quite Romantic (and small-r romantic as well), but Respighi’s musical language moves past 19th-century traditions to create emotional expressiveness that strains to encompass the depredations of a new century within delicate harmonies and a very carefully developed illustration of the sadder and more contemplative elements of Shelley’s poem. As for the Strauss here, Metamorphosen dates to the Second rather than First World War – he wrote it in 1944-1945 – and contrasts positive and hopeful sections with sad and depressive ones more strongly than does Respighi’s work. Metamorphosen draws directly or indirectly on music of the past, notably the funereal second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, and Herzog and Appassionato manage to have the piece sound like something of a homage to earlier composers (Bach and Mozart as well as Beethoven) while also delivering the work with the clarity befitting a piece intended for 23 strings – the sort of complement that fits Appassionato very well. It is interesting that this CD offers the three works in reverse chronological order – starting with Strauss, moving to Respighi, and concluding with Schoenberg’s 1899 Verklärte Nacht – because Schoenberg’s entirely tonal (although highly chromatic) work helped lay the foundations for his later experiments in and codifications of twelve-tone music, which date to 1923 and thereafter. The complexities of musical nationalism and, indeed, of nationalism itself, became quite pronounced and parlous during the time periods of the works on this CD. Herzog’s ability to find and bring forth the foundational similarities among the three pieces – emotional resemblances rather than ones of specific compositional technique – indicates that although different national musical heritages may have led musicians to come at late-Romantic and post-Romantic concerns in different ways, many of the underlying feelings and experiences of the composers were shared in ways that transcended national boundaries and artistic traditions.