Monday, May 27, 2013

May: Week Four

Books Read:
  • The Pastures of Heaven (John Steinbeck)

Steinbeck published The Pastures of Heaven in 1932, making it one of his earliest works. I haven't read East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath (yet!!), but if this is his early work, I can't even imagine how good his later works are. I really enjoyed this book - it's a collection of short stories featuring a community of people who live in a valley called the Pastures of Heaven. Most of them end on a poignant or melancholy note (so certainly the same man who wrote Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony), but they are thoughtful little stories with a surprising amount of depth (lack of depth is usually my biggest complaint about short stories, but stories like these prove that it is possible to explore big ideas in a small number of pages). Definitely recommend!

Other than that, I have been reading various conducting students' dissertations and treatises about David Maslanka's music in preparation for writing my prospectus this summer. I'm also currently in the middle of Catch-22, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that next week!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

May: Week Three

Books Bought:
  • Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz Since 1945 (eds. Marvin and Hermann)

Books Read:
  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  • A Fairly Honorable Defeat (Iris Murdoch)
  • Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality (Jacob Tomsky)

This week's list is late because I was without Internet for a few days. However, since I didn't have Internet, I had plenty of extra time to read! After seeing the new Great Gatsby movie last weekend I had to reread the book - luckily, I foresaw this and had already asked for my copy to be mailed from home. It took no time at all to reread - what a wonderful little book! Regarding the movie: I am an incredibly difficult person to please when it comes to book/movie adaptations (most recently, I was extremely disappointed in The Hobbit). I could find almost nothing wrong with The Great Gatsby, however! I enjoyed the movie almost as much as I enjoyed the book (the fact that Carey Mulligan was Daisy didn't hurt). After a semester of watching documentaries and listening to the way they use music, I can't watch anything without analyzing what's going on with the score, and I really approved of the soundtrack, anachronisms and all (best use of Rhapsody in Blue I've ever seen in a film - I have zero problem with it being two years early). More importantly, I thought the movie captured the important themes of the book - the superficiality of the jazz age, Gatsby's naive desire to change the past, the false dream symbolized by the little green light. 

Back to actual books...I came across a review of Murdoch's A Fairly Honorable Defeat and thought it sounded interesting. Originally published in 1970, this book is a black comedy that plays with human relationships as manipulated by Julius, a character who brings to mind Iago from Othello. I wasn't sure what to expect from this 400+ page book, but was pleased to find that it flew by. I would certainly be interested in reading more of Murdoch's works.

On the less literary side, Heads in Beds is absolutely hilarious. Having spend a semester working in a customer service position (and being a relatively frequent hotel guest), I really enjoyed this book about what it's like in hotels behind the scenes (Tomsky has worked in hotels for years). One of my favorite parts of the book is the list in the back appendices entitled "Standard LIES That Spew from the Mouth of a Front Desk Agent" - it's funny because it's most likely entirely accurate (examples: "I appreciate your feedback." "All the rooms are basically the same size." "My pleasure."). This would be a great airplane book - especially because you would arrive at your hotel knowing how to treat a bellman or what the most effective way to make a complaint is.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

May: Week Two

Books Read:
  • The Mystery of Mercy Close (Marian Keyes)
  • The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way (Alice Walker)

It's wonderful to have finally begun my summer reading! And no better way to start than with Irish author Marian Keyes's latest book: The Mystery of Mercy Close is a book that Keyes's fans have been waiting for for years. The main character, Helen, is the youngest of the five Walsh sisters - Keyes has already written books about the four older sisters. Keyes is one of my favorite authors because she tackles heavy subjects in comedic fashion without taking away from the seriousness of whichever malady the main character suffers from. Helen has always been a source of comic relief in the earlier four Walsh sister books (she is a mean and scrappy private investigator), so I was curious to see what would happen to her. I wasn't surprised that the book involved a mystery, but this is not a mystery novel and the mystery itself ties more into Helen's struggles than provides a source of suspense. I usually try not to give away plot points in this blog, but we find out fairly early on that Helen has depression. However, I still wouldn't describe this as a "book about depression," just as I wouldn't describe any of Keyes's earlier books as "books about alcoholism" or "books about domestic violence." It's about Helen.

I picked up The Cushion in the Road after seeing it on the "New Books" display table at the library. I read Walker's The Color Purple back in March, so I was interested in this new collection of her essays and letters. I didn't read every essay in this book (some are very political), but I read and enjoyed the majority. Her essay on The Help was particularly thought-provoking. Others are very honest (as the full title of the book suggests) and read as calls to action. Worth reading, but it's a lot to absorb at one time. I read it over a period of two weeks, but this might be a better book to have purchased and read over a longer period of time - again, as the title suggests, many of her essays demand reflection.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May: Week One

Books Bought:
  • The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape (Denise Von Glahn)

Books Read:
  • The Hours (Michael Cunningham)
  • Naked (David Sedaris)
  • The Red Pony (John Steinbeck)

Dr. Von Glahn's book The Sounds of Place is on my personal required reading list for the summer - I'm writing my master's thesis about a specific composer's connection to the American landscape, and Dr. Von Glahn is my advisor, so I need to know what she says about the topic!

I can't remember why I decided to read The Hours - I've heard of the movie but have never seen it, and I was unaware that the book won the Pulitzer. It's a pretty good book - a quick read but well thought out. I actually only read parts of Naked (another memoir told in short stories) - I didn't like it anywhere near as much as Me Talk Pretty One Day. I guess I was more interested in Sedaris's experiences in Paris than his everyday stories about his childhood/weird things that have happened to him. I read The Red Pony because I had to write an essay about the 1949 film and Aaron Copland's score earlier in the semester - I have to say that I much preferred the story in the adaptation to the four separate episodes that Steinbeck wrote. 

I didn't love any of the three books I read this week - I find it much harder to write about books I feel more ambivalent towards.