Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 2013: Week Four

Books Bought:
  • Leaving Everything Most Loved (Jacqueline Winspear)
  • America's Musical Life: A History (Richard Crawford)

Books Read:
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris)
  • Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century (Charles Hiroshi Garrett)

This was a pretty good week. I preordered Leaving Everything Most Loved a couple of months ago, so I didn't really buy it this week. Back in December, I wrote about Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series - mysteries solved by a female detective during the 1920s-1930s. The early books dealt with the aftermath of WWI; the most recent ones cover the changes leading up to WWII. I'm completely hooked, so I preordered the latest one, but I'm not going to let myself read it until I can see the light at the end of the tunnel...I have far too many papers to write, and I know I'll be unable to exercise any sort of self-control with this book. The blurb on the book jacket says that Leaving Everything Most Loved "marks a pivotal moment in this remarkable series," so I'm intrigued. 

The book I actually did spend money on this week was Richard Crawford's America's Musical Life. Richard Crawford is part of the tradition of musicologists who have written histories of American music that include popular and folk music, but the reason I first heard his name was back in my band literature class - this book is the only chronology of American music to include two full chapters on band history. At the band conference I was at last week, more than one band director mentioned Richard Crawford to me when they heard I was a musicology student, and I had a great talk with my old band director from Baylor about his experiences in Dr. Crawford's classes at the University of Michigan - he was there when Crawford was writing this book - so I decided that I really needed to own it. I plan to read it this summer - it will tie into my thesis research quite nicely!

David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day is another book I have frequently heard mentioned over the past few years, but have never read. I checked it out from the library and loved it - the book is a memoir told in short essays, and they are all hilarious, although I especially enjoyed the second half of the book as it takes place in Paris, one of my favorite settings. I read about half of the book on my conference trip last week; it's the perfect book to pick up when you have twenty minutes or so to fill.

Struggling to Define a Nation was the second book I read for my Music in the US II class. Garrett examines some of the less-talked-about genres that were popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, and all of them relate in some way to cultural conflict. This is an unconventional way of looking at the history of American music, and I appreciated the way it opened my mind not only to the variety of music that makes up our history, but to the idea that the diversity we celebrate in our music is sometimes difficult to discuss due to the contestation out of which much of the music grew. 

I'm getting pretty deeply buried in three research papers, so I foresee less reading in the month of April - almost all of my free time is being devoted to researching and writing!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March 2013: Week Two and Three

Books Bought:
  • The Waste Land and Other Poems (T. S. Eliot)
  • Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)
  • Johannes Brahms (Jan Swafford)

Books Read:
  • Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment (Mark Pedelty)
  • Band of Sisters: U.S. Women's Military Bands during World War II (Jill Sullivan)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

Mark Pedelty's Ecomusicology: Rock, Folk, and the Environment is such an interesting and inspiring read! Pedelty is an anthropologist who learned to play an instrument and formed a band in order to study musical environmental activism as a participant-observer. In this book (part ethnography, part history) he explores music's ability to promote sustainability, moving from a global to a national to a regional to a local viewpoint. It's really interesting to read about the ways music can affect communities, especially on the local level (this is where the ethnographic viewpoint comes in). This book is super accessible - don't let the title fool you; this is not a book for musicologists (or even musicians) only!

I interlibrary-loaned Band of Sisters when I thought I was going to be writing a paper on a similar topic (women in college bands in WWII), but I decided to read the book even after I changed my topic. The book is a quick read and quite fascinating - I found the writing quite dry, but the information itself is still interesting. Sullivan includes a good amount of oral history, and the thing that stands out the most about this book is how much playing in a band meant to these women - obviously, they are all quite old now, but many still say it was the greatest time of their lives.

I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower with some friends over spring break and realized that I remembered very little about the book (I read it in high school). So I checked the book out from the library and reread it in a couple of days. I appreciated it more than I did in high school - in high school I related to the "wallflower" part, but not much else (which is probably why I didn't remember much), although I do remember that several friends quoted "and in that moment I swear we were infinite" all over the place (which I think was kind of a hipster thing). I liked that the movie acknowledged the popularity of that line by moving it to the very end, instead of pretty early on as it is in the book. I think the movie represented the book really well, and I'm glad it inspired me to reread the book. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

March 2013: Week One

I'm trying a new format this month because I always want to talk about every book I read, and that makes my posts turn out reeeeally long. I usually only finish 1-2 books per week, so I hope this is more effective!

Books Bought:

  • Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates)

Books Read:

  • My Ideal Bookshelf (Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

My Ideal Bookshelf is described as a coffee table book, but I read it cover to cover. The book features about 100 famous (or accomplished) people talking about books and includes an illustration of what they would put on their "ideal bookshelf" - favorite books, books that are important to their careers, etc. I love reading books about books - I checked this one out from the library, and I didn't love it enough that I would want to own it, but it was entertaining to see which books were most often selected: some were not surprising (Lolita, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Catcher in the Rye, anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Flannery O'Connor) and some that I'd never heard of (Elizabeth Bishop's poems are very popular). Mainly, this book reminded me how many books there are out there that I just have to read. (So when I saw Revolutionary Road, which was included on two or three ideal bookshelves, for $4 on Amazon, I bought it!) 

My favorite quotation from the book came from Malcolm Gladwell, and it completely summed up my love affair with buying books (and could also easily be hash-tagged "musicology problems"): 
"I've probably acquired 150 books just for this project. I haven't read all of them, and I won't. Some of them I'll just look at. But that's the fun part. It's an excuse to go on Amazon. The problem is, of course, that eventually you have to stop yourself. Otherwise you'll collect books forever. But these books are markers for ideas that I'm interested in. That's why it's so important to have physical books. When I see my bookshelf expanding, it gives me the illusion that my brain is expanding, too."

I adored The Color Purple and will definitely be adding it to my list of favorite books. It includes some of the best character development I've ever seen in such a relatively short novel (actually - I'm not really sure how short it is because I read it on my felt short). I believe part of the reason I enjoyed The Color Purple so much because I really didn't know anything about it beforehand, other than it won a Pulitzer Prize at some point. I think it's be incredibly tempting to throw one of a handful of different labels on this novel (and one look at the reviews on Amazon confirmed this), but the beauty of the book is that it fits into so many categories. I read this book in less than 24 hours and highly recommend it to pretty much anyone. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

High School Revisited

I was inspired by my friend Paige to reflect on high school...but from a reader's point of view. Here is the tale of the books I read for high school English classes, told through a series of lists (each list is in chronological order):

Books I enjoyed in high school and will certainly reread: 
  1. Le Morte d'Arthur (Thomas Malory)
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  3. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
  4. Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)
  5. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  6. The Devil in the White City (Erik Lawson)
  7. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
  8. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
  9. Candide (Voltaire)
  10. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard)

Books I wasn't quite sure about in high school and will reread one day:
  1. A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
  2. Cold Sassy Tree (Olive Ann Burns)
  3. The Awakening (Kate Chopin)
  4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)
  5. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (Michael Dorris)

Books I disliked in high school, but plan to reread: 
  1. All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
  2. The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  3. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)
  4. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
  5. The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien)

Books I hated in high school and don't plan to ever reread, even though I probably should:
  1. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
  2. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
  3. Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
  4. Grendel (John Gardner)
  5. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

My most loved book from high school: A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
My most hated book from high school: A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)

If you read my last post, you already know how I feel about A Prayer for Owen Meany. So let me just say that I have a real problem with A Farewell to Arms. Which is quite sad, really, because I've been told that I would enjoy other Hemingway books. But nope, you missed your chance, Mr. Hemingway, for writing the lousiest ending in the history of literary lousy endings. It's the type of ending I would expect from a Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks novel. If someone can formulate a really convincing argument, maybe I'll move this book up to the "plan to reread" list, but that has yet to happen.