Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 2013

Books Bought:

  • Nineteenth Century Music (Carl Dahlhaus)
  • A Composer's Insight: Thoughts, Analysis, and Commentary on Contemporary Masterpieces for Wind Band: Volume 2 (ed. Timothy Salzman)
  • The Oxford History of Western Music (Richard Taruskin)
  • Music and the Skillful Listener: American Women Compose the Natural World (Denise Von Glahn)

Books Read:

  • In One Person (John Irving)
  • An Available Man (Hilma Wolitzer)
  • Looking for Alaska (John Green)
  • This One is Mine (Maria Semple)
  • The Book of Music and Nature (Rothernberg and Ulvaeus)
  • Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West (Beth E. Levy)

How you can tell that February is a busy time of the semester for a musicologist: I only bought books related to my classes and my thesis, and I only read four books for fun this whole month.

Things you need to know about the books I bought:

  1. A Composer's Insight is really neat because it includes basically everything you would need to know to have a solid background about a handful of composers and the pieces they write for band...including David Maslanka. 
  2. The Oxford History of Western Music is five volumes and 3,586 pages. It is every musicologist's dream to read it cover to cover (ok, maybe not every musicologist - I might be making that up. But these guys did it.) Richard Taruskin's writing style is wonderful. How did I afford this on a graduate student budget, you may ask...here's how: for every birthday/Christmas, my grandparents send me an amazon.com gift card. I always spend them on books. This year I just combined birthday and Christmas...totally worth it.
  3. Dr. Von Glahn is teaching my musicology seminar this semester on music and nature. We're going to read her brand new book! (In this case, by "bought," I actually mean preordered.)

Things you need to know about the books I read:
  1. I'm not sure how I missed reading Looking for Alaska in high school, but I did. I decided to remedy that when my sister showed me the book over break, and I was pleasantly surprised...the book is a nice mixture of A Separate Piece and Perks of Being a Wallflower.
  2. This One is Mine is nowhere near as good as Where'd You Go, Bernadette (see last month). Overall, I was disappointed.
  3. Frontier Figures is one of the best class-assigned books I've ever read. If you are even remotely interested in American music, read this book. It's completely fascinating and almost reads like a novel. And it's not just me saying this - it's not even just musicologists! One of my favorite oboists is in the class with me, and she will tell you the same thing. (Confession: as I am writing this, I haven't actually finished the book...but the last 25 pages are Thursday's assignment, so I'll still have finished the book in February.)

And finally - time to talk about In One Person. If you have ever discussed reading with me, you probably know that John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my all-time favorite books. However, the only other book by Irving that I've read (I think I talked about it on this blog a long time ago) wasn't one I particularly enjoyed, so I was intrigued when I heard that his newest book was the first since Owen Meany to be written in first person. I've had a few weeks now to digest my reactions to In One Person, and I have to conclude that it is probably going to become one of my favorite books if it holds up when the first re-reading comes around. 

The book is narrated by Billy and covers almost his whole life. Billy is bisexual (although for the first chunk of his life he is just confused), and Irving has created a character who I think is impossible to fail to empathize with. Aspects of the plot are very similar to Owen Meany (and many of Irving's other novels) - we've got a narrator whose biological father is out of the picture and a private school for boys in a New England, pre-Vietnam setting, for one thing. More importantly, the second half of this book covers the AIDS epidemic, something we rarely hear about, in the same deftly poignant way that Owen Meany tackles the Vietnam War. 

While I recommend Owen Meany to almost everyone I meet, I'm hesitant to do the same with In One Person - I'm just not quite sure why. Yes, the topic is one that some people might not feel comfortable with, but in my eyes, that's more reason to read this book. (Also, what is the point of reading literature that doesn't make you uncomfortable?) However, I think it's the type of book that readers need to discover for themselves, if that makes any sense. I think two types of people will appreciate this book: people who personally identify with Billy (which clearly won't be just bisexuals) and people who read enough to tackle the deeper meaning behind the topics introduced in this book - readers who recognize when a book should be read slowly and thoughtfully and are patient enough to do so. I read this book over a span of two weeks, which is a fairly long time when I am completely absorbed in a book...I wouldn't recommend reading more than a chapter in one sitting. 

That's all I have for this month - happy reading!