Book Review: Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs
Richard Russo
544 pages. Knopff, 2007. $27

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Richard Russo is one of a half-dozen authors whose books I buy sight unseen. I have laughed and cried reading his novels, especially my favorite, Nobody’s Fool, but also the chilling Empire Falls and the burlesque Straight Man.

So I was delighted to get yet another novel from an author who doesn’t write as much as I’d like, and it’s a big meaty one. Russo himself once said, “When a favorite author of mine comes out with a new book, I always hope for two contradictory things: first, I hope it’s like all the other books of his or hers that I love, and second, I hope he’s not going to repeat himself. Sure, it’s a paradox, but I suspect I’m not alone in my desires.” And Bridge of Sighs is about as different as possible from Russo’s other books, yet at the same time his depth of character, humanism and touching details are ever-present.

The story tells the tale of Lou C. Lynch (nicknamed Lucy), and his relationship with his family, his only friend, and eventually his girlfriend who will later become his wife. It’s vintage Russo in his characterization and portrayal of small-town America, a tiny slice of life of a small town in upstate New York. This is what’s called a “character-driven novel”, where the plot itself is dependent on the characters and their actions, and that explains why some reviewers have found the book “slow” or “wordy”. Russo weaves a tapestry of the events in his characters’ lives, their feelings, and their thoughts, and all of it is believable.

I won’t deny that I was a bit thrown by this book for a while. But I trusted Russo to bring this story to a moving conclusion, and had tears in my eyes during the final chapter. If you don’t have patience to read a true stylist and, in my opinion, on of America’s finest character authors, you’d best avoid this book. But if you are willing to give yourself up to Russo’s world for more than 500 pages, you’ll be much the richer. As always, Russo gives a great story, with moving, real people in events that you can imagine occurring to you. A great read indeed.

Spotlight’s Secret Search Syntax

With the release of Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard, Apple has greatly improved its search technology, called Spotlight. Introduced with the previous version of Mac OS X (Tiger), Spotlight was both brilliant and stunted; brilliant because it can work so well in certain situations, but stunted because it was so limited. It didn’t offer Boolean searches (AND, NOT, OR), which meant all your searches were, like Google searches, based on every word you entered. So if you typed King and Lear, you’d find anything with both words, but not with King or Lear alone. And there was no way to find a file containing Kind and NOT Lear. All that’s changed.

Boolean searches, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Tiger had a couple of operators you could use with keywords, that most people didn’t know about. They were the kind: and date: keywords. You could type, say, kind:pdf to find PDF files; or kind:music to narrow a spotlight search down to music files. And you could use date:today to find files modified today, and date:tomorrow to find appointments scheduled for tomorrow. (You can use both these keywords in the Spotlight menu, or in the Finder’s Search field.)These two keywords still exist in Leopard, but are greatly expanded. Let me begin with the date: keyword, since it’s the simpler one. To start with, Apple has added operators that you can use with this keyword: they are >, <, and -.

Here are some examples:

date:>1/1/07 will find any file modified after January 1, 2007. (The dates you enter must correspond to the short date format you have set in your International preferences.)

date:<12/31/07 will find any file modified before December 31, 2007.

date:1/1/07-12/31/07 will find files modified between those two dates.

But things get interesting when you look at the kind: keyword. Apple has expanded this to dozens of new kinds, and made it potentially limitless. There is no list of kinds, but you can get an idea by doing the following. In the Finder, type the letter “a” in the search field. Choose List View (click the List view icon, or press Command-2). Then click the Kind column to sort by kind in alphabetical order. You’ll see a wide range of kinds: from Alias and Application to ZIP Archive, by way of MP3 Audio Files, Folders, JPEG Images and much more. Now try a Spotlight search, either from the Spotlight menu or the Finder: type, say, kind:word, if you have Microsoft Word documents on your Mac; if not, try kind:text. The former will show you all your word documents, and the latter will show you all your text files, at least those created by TextEdit and some other applications.

This is especially useful when tracking down files you made with specific applications. For example, I’m writing this article in BBEdit; I can search for all BBEdit files by typing kind:bb (you don’t always need to type out the entire kind to get hits; two or three letters may be enough).

Well, you may think that’s powerful, but you haven’t seen anything yet. In addition to these expanded operators, Spotlight now has a limitless set of other operators. Not only are there kind: and date: keywords, but there are dozens of new keywords. None of this is documented yet, but you can get a glimpse of what’s available by selecting the Other attribute in the Finder’s search bar, or by checking the following file:

/System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Frameworks
/Metadata.framework/Resources/English.lproj/schema.string

The former gives you names and explanations, and the latter shows you exactly how to type the operators. For example, to use Audio Bit Rate, you’ll see in the latter file that you have to type either audiobitrate: or bitrate:.

Here are some examples of the new operators:

Find a file by searching for the person who created it (in programs that store this information) by typing author:. For example, I’ll find files I’ve created with author:kirk. For now, the only programs I have that come up are Word, Pages, Mail and iChat (chat logs). There are also some PDF’s I’ve created from Word or Pages files. (You can also use from:, with: or by: to find the same information.)

Find files created using the AAC codec with codec:aac. This finds both music and video files.

Find files with comments using the comment: operator. This applies to comments made to iTunes files as to Spotlight comments added in the Finder; other programs may also support this.

Find files with an audio bit rate of 32 kpbs by typing audiobitrate:32, or bitrate:32.

Find music files where Bach is listed as composer: composer:bach.

Find pictures taken at an ISO speed of 400 by typing iso:400; find photos taken at an ISO speed higher than that by typing iso:>400.

I’ll stop here, but you can see that the possibilities are quite extensive. In addition, third party programs can add their own attributes that can be searched. One way to find what they can do is to take a file and run the mdls command in it in Terminal (mdls <filename>). This will display all the file’s metadata, and will allow you to discover which attributes it is using. You’ll also see this information in the Finder, when you choose the Other search attribute as explained above.

As yet, Apple hasn’t documented this, so let’s hope they do so soon with a complete list containing explanations. (For some of these operators it’s not clear exactly how to use them; however, if you have files that they can find, some trial and error should help you discover the answer.) These operators are likely not something you’ll use daily, but when you’re trying to find that lost file on your Mac, or simply trying to sort a group of files, will come in handy.

Glenn Gould Box Set: Available Now

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

As the holiday season approaches, it’s time for plenty of box sets to tempt music fans. This one, a collection of every recording Glenn Gould made, 80 CDs that resemble the original LPs, is a godsend for fans of the Great Gould. I have to admit having a weakness for Glenn, especially for his Bach recordings. While I own all his Bach, and much of his Beethoven, there are many discs I don’t have, and this set is very tempting indeed. Gould was one of those rare performers who lived a life dedicated to music his way. He famously gave up touring to focus on recording in the studio, looking for perfection with technology. This may or may not have been the best choice, but Gould’s recordings are some of the most idiomatic in the history of piano recordings.

Coincidentally, I recently read an interesting biography of Gould entitled Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. So I’m in the perfect mindset to listen to lots of Gould, and I’m looking forward to this set.

The Tivoli Audio iPAL: Big Sound from a Little Speaker

Around $200; Buy from Amazon.com

You wouldn’t think it by looking at this small radio with a built-in speaker, but it’s got a huge sound. The Tivoli Audio iPAL, or Portable Audio Laboratory, surprises by the richness and full range of its output. Designed initially as a radio, it comes with a mini-din jack so you can plug in an iPod or other portable music player, and it pumps out sound that’ll make you think twice. For the iPAL has only one speaker. But this speaker is so good that you won’t notice the difference. After all, if you have two speakers and they’re too close together, you won’t really hear the stereo separation. So Tivoli Audio decided to go for a single speaker with high-quality sound and amplification.

But it gets better. The iPAL is rechargeable, weather-resistant, and its case is rubberized. While you can use it on your deck or near a pool, I’d hesitate about using it in the rain—I’d hesitate even more about having my iPod out in the rain. But you won’t have to worry about the occasional splash or those first drops of rain at a picnic.

The iPAL shines in its powerful, rich bass, an area where most small speakers suffer. Unlike a boom-box with artificial bass enhancement, the iPAL’s bass is realistic and even, without the common booming that you hear in cheaper units. For many uses, whether at home, in the office or outdoors, the PAL is a great way to listen to your music. It’s got a built-in AM/FM radio, with a very accurate tuner, so when you’re tired of listening to music, or want to catch that Yankee game, you can do so.

Another way to use the iPal is as an external speaker when listening to audiobooks. A lot of people who are fans of digital audiobooks use iPods or other devices to listen on the move, but want some sort of external speaker for listening at home, on their deck, or in the park. With the iPal being slightly bass-heavy, it actually works perfectly for voice recordings, and, while a bit expensive, may be the perfect speaker for audiobooks.

Find and Conquer Duplicates in your iTunes Library

Doug Adams, the AppleScript guru, has just released Dupin 1.0, a nifty new (Mac-only) program that assists with locating, sorting, filtering, and deleting duplicate tracks in iTunes.

Here’s what Dupin can do:

  • Quickly find all sets of duplicate iTunes tracks based on your choice of criteria
  • Select the “Keeper” tracks from among a number of duplicates automatically using a variety of versatile filtering options
  • Purge duplicate tracks from iTunes and send files to the Trash
  • Manage intentionally duplicated tracks
  • Copy tracks to new iTunes playlists
  • View duplicates in non-loaded libraries created with iTunes’ multiple library feature
  • View duplicates in iTunes libraries on other machines on your local network
  • Sort tracks and view track info
  • Export a list of duplicates to a text file
  • Locate tracks in the Finder and in iTunes
  • Play tracks

Dupin is a very cool program; I was fortunate to be able to test it before release, and can attest to its usefulness and coolness. If you’ve got lots of dupes in your iTunes library and want to control them, give it a try.

Some of My Translations

In addition to being a writer, I’ve worked as a translator from French to English for the past dozen years. While much of my work involved translating technical documents, I have also translated a number of books, and excerpts from books. Here is a list of some of my translations, links to samples, and links to pages on Amazon.com for those books that have been published. (Alas, several of them are out of print…)

Non-Fiction

China in a Mirror, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud. This lovely book combines photographs of today’s China with, on facing pages, pictures of Chinese art that mirrors the photos. I translated the preface to this book, which was written by my friend Cyrille Javary.

Understanding the I Ching, by Cyrille Javary, is a book about the I Ching, its history, and its usage. The book is out of print, but you should be able to find used copies in a number of online bookstores. The link at the beginning of this paragraph takes you to a page about the book with an excerpt from it.

Lebanon, the Phoenician Pearl is a beautiful book of photos and history about Lebanon.

Versailles is a small, color art and history book about the Château de Versailles, as seen through the kings and queens that lived there.

Marrakesh: The Secret of Its Courtyard Houses is a beautiful book about the houses hidden behind the walls of Marrakesh. You will never be able to see most of these houses, but this book looks at the architecture and the history of this style of house.

Arabesques, by Jean-Marc Castéra, is an astounding book about arabesques, the ceramic mosaics traditional in northern Africa and the Middle East. Not only does it present these works of art, but it also shows the mathematic underpinnings of their design.

Paris; ah, gay Paree, as we say. A book that recounts the history of the city of lights, with memorable photos of the architecture that makes Paris so magical.

Fiction

Genia, by Manual Martin, a spiritual thriller, written long before that other best-selling book which codified the genre. Abundant samples are available on the web site.

The Warriors of Silence, by Pierre Bordage. Two sample chapters of this unpublished novel. Pierre Bordage is one of France’s best-selling science fiction authors. I’ve translated other long excerpts of Pierre Bordage’s work for French publishers; I do not have the rights to post them here.

The Story of the Grail, by Chrétien de Troyes. A work-in-progress that I’ll finish one day. You can download several sections of this work in PDF format.

I am always interested in translating books, both fiction and non-fiction, so if you are a publisher, editor or author, feel free to send me an e-mail. I’m especially interested in 19th century French fiction, classics such as Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac and Guy de Maupassant; history; science; science ficton; and mysteries and thrillers.