Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography, 2007

A magic lantern according to Wikipedia is “the ancestor of the modern slide projector … With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen.” The flickering images from this instrument blossomed into Bergman’s life as a director, etc. and also served as a neat metaphor for the book as his stream of conscious musings tremble from one scene to the next. Yesterday afternoon I finished Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography The Magic Lantern and the conclusion of the book gave me the best advise (possibly ever) on friendships as well as a warm glimpse (unlike previous commentary) into the lives of his intriguing parents.

I first fell in love with Bergman after renting Wild Strawberries and recall upon my first viewing of the movie that I sat attentively near the screen amazed at what unfolded. In his autobiography Bergman spends a good deal of time discussing how any film that isn’t a documentary is a representation of a dream. This perhaps best explains a certain quality that exists to various degrees in all of his films.

According to the autobiography the reader may assume that Bergman had a bit of a wretched childhood, which then blossomed into relationship problems and alienation in his adult life. The sheer amount of autobiographical information that shows up in his movie astounds me. I would have to say my two favorite moments from the book are: one, when his brother told him he could jump out of the second floor window with their grandmother’s umbrella and Ingmar would safely float to the ground. He was stopped but recalled crying not because of the danger or getting into trouble but realizing that indeed he couldn’t fly with the umbrella. And two, a memory of swimming when he attempted to come to the surface but found himself under a raft. He recollects not being scared but opening his eyes to look at the world around him.

I was absolutely thrilled with the autobiography but I also feel safe in saying if you are not acquainted with his films a good portion of the book may be a lost on you. Otherwise splendid and I was thrilled to finish it just in time to watch the Passion of Anna.

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Judge a Book by Its Cover

shirazI am such a sucker for a good book cover and when I caught sight of The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer I nearly splurged on a book I knew nothing about. Of course the timeless saying of, “don’t judge a book by its cover” popped to mind and in an odd moment of query spent my lunch break searching for the origins of this rather popular (particularly in the book business) phrase:

“To make a judgment of inherent quality on the basis of superficial attributes. The proverbial saying which advises against this … has an air of ancient wisdom but there is no record of it before the 1920s.”

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrases & Fables 17th ed.

Regardless of my superficial desire for this book, I have found the cover art of books to be extremely interesting. Of course book jackets serve as an advertisement space but personally I consider book jackets to be windows into the book (okay, I just made that up). Recently a good number of Albert Camus’ books have received more modern covers and I find myself growingly interested in the evolution of a novel’s many windows.

Currently, I’m a third of the way into The Magic Lantern by Ingmar Bergman and have realized the reason that Bergman was a famous film director (and I’m not) is because his life was insane. I do not simply mean interesting but insane. Last evening I re-watched one of my favorite Bergman films Wild Strawberries and couldn’t resist recollecting so many points from the book. Perhaps what best stuck out in my mind were Bergman’s description of the attempted (and not in a playful manner) acts of fratricide between him and his brother! Pretty compelling stuff. It also has me reconsidering the popular catchphrase amongst some literary academics to never assume the write is the narrator.