5 min read

June: Queen of Days

Stories by Chekhov, Documentary: "Class of Her Own," The Philharmonik, & a taste of Sly Stone
June: Queen of Days

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck


Thank you for allowing me to share the films, books, and music that inspire me. Simply put, without my friends, I would be lost. As always, these Reviews are forever free.

If you're a paid subscriber, I deeply appreciate it. I send paid subscribers audio and ebook copies of short stories before they're released. There is a new print book and audiobook on the horizon. I'm grateful to all of you for helping me stay on track.

Please donate to the Red Cross. You can choose where you want your donation to go. https://www.redcross.org/

BOOKS: The Short Stories of Anton Chekhov

Last month I mentioned that I often reread a chapter from a later Elmore Leonard novel before I dive into writing an A. A. Aritz crime piece. It helps me get the tone right and it energizes me. I read other crime writers also, but, so far, he is the teacher.

Feedback from the May Reviews reminded me that I often do something similar when writing other short stories, monologues, or whatever. I'm drawn back to Anton Chekhov's short stories.

Chekhov was a genius. An intelligent master of subtle technique and powers of observation. I re-read him because I love the way he keeps readers entwined in suspense. There is an urgency he weaves into his stories that is almost impossible to define. I do not know how he does it, but by reading him carefully, I hope to intuitively pick up on a few of his moves.

But honestly, I'm like a rockabilly piano player trying to steal moves from Keith Jarrett. I can catch a masterful chord change or two, but the seemingly casual way Chekhov brilliantly writes astounds me.

But I cannot talk about my love of Chekhov without mentioning the problems with some of his many English translations.

The academically approved collections pictured above and translated by Peter Constantine have been around for a while and are good, maybe perfect, but here's the thing.

You can purchase a public domain collection of Chekhov short stories inexpensively. There are, of course, multiple translations.

When I read an early collection, (and I have many since they are often so inexpensive on Kindle as to be almost free), I find an emotional charge in the writing that is not there in mid-century and modern translations. I believe I can feel the difference. There is a journalistic quality to the early translations that feels right.

Last week I read "A Doctor's Visit" translated by Constance Garnett around 1896-1904. One of my favorite Checkhov translators. The story is simple. A doctor visits the house of wealthy factory owners to diagnose a sick daughter. Simple enough, but Chekhov's wide perception of human folly, judgment, and entitlement results in a gut punch. A masterpiece.

The edition pictured above is $1.99 on Kindle and most of the translations in that book are early ones. The shorter collection at the top of this article is a better introduction I think, because Chekhov is a high-proof beverage. A shot is a lot.

DOCUMENTARY: "Class of Her Own" directed by Boaz Dvir

Available for streaming on Apple TV and Amazon.

Class of Her Own is a documentary about Gloria Jean Merriex, a middle school teacher in Gainesville, Florida, who, after her school was determined to be a failing school, decided she was going to do everything differently.

She used chants, dancing, acting, pantomime, and rap to teach math and writing. In one year, she brought the entire school up to an A rating on standardized tests, ensuring that their funding would remain, but more importantly, that her students would thrive and go on to higher education. The success brought academics out of the woodwork to study her classes. Then they went back to their chairs in university offices to think about what it all meant.

This film could have easily become agitprop about the importance of reaching students where they are and adjusting teaching to the learning styles of students. The director, Boaz Dvir, saw something larger happening to Merriex and brought that truth forward. Those who loved her watched her sacrifice her health and private life to give and give.

I heard Boaz Dvir tell a journalist that he wants the audience to make up their minds about what the film means. Before I saw it, I anticipated a straightforward film and it is in many ways, but there is a troubling question at the core of it.

The year after Gloria Jean Merriex died, the entire middle school was rated an F for failing students. One year later funding was pulled and the school closed. See the film and make up your own mind as to what that means.

MUSIC: The Philharmonik

This will get your heart going. This is Philharmonik, that is, Christian Gates, producer, singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist from Sacramento, California, who put together a high-concept video (see below) to win the 2024 Tiny Desk Contest, beating out over 7000 entries.

The second song contains emphatic profanity delivered with funk and emotion, and it's perfect for our times. This is your trigger warning.

Gates's work reminds me of Sly Stone, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter also from Nor-Cal. In his case, Vallejo, California.

(To understand why Gates is on the evolutionary funk timeline with Sly listen to Episode 175 of the podcast A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs entitled “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone Part 1 Different Strokes For Different Folks.)

Gates's band from Sacramento: Moriah Wenzel (background vocals), Alicia Huff (background vocals), Courtney Miller (drums), Samuel Phelps (bass), Darius Upshaw (guitar), Connor Chavez (guitar), Jimmy Toor (flute) and Jeffery Archie (keys).

And I can't resist. Here is a drink of cool water from the source himself. I would blast this if I were you. It'll change your day.

Have a great July. Love & Light always.

Book, music, screen reviews & fiction can be found at dandomench.com - a forever free secure site with the highest privacy standards. Your free login is your email and name. Your participation is not public. Your info is never shared. If you contribute, your payment information is never stored here. Add this website to your address book or drag the newsletter from your spam folder to your primary folder so we can stay in touch. You can contact me at dandomench@gmail.com.