Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#31: Music in the 18th Century (John Rice)

Obviously this book is not recommended for everyone. A volume in the new Norton History series Western Music in ContextMusic in the 18th Century addresses the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. In an interesting approach, Rice groups music of the era geographically, giving major attention to the cities of Naples, Vienna, and Paris as well as others. A large amount of discussion is given to the historical and political events that shaped the music. A companion anthology is also available for each volume in the series.

I found Rice’s text to be extremely readable while maintaining its scholarly status. However, I did find the use of theoretical terms developed by Robert Gjerdingen (2007) to be unnecessarily confusing to the text. I found it humorous that Rice defends his inclusion of the material with the following statement:  “Readers need to keep in mind, however, that this terminology and the theory on which it rests are quite new and their usefulness still subject to debate.” (p. 35) That red-flag statement seemed to say, “I’m not sure there’s any validity to this discussion, but I’m going to include it to show how smart I am.” When Rice strictly spoke from a historical and musical point of view, the text was strong and filled with lots of insightful commentary; the theoretical discussions should have been avoided in the present text.

I look forward to reading the remaining volumes in the series that is edited by Walter Frisch. I’ll just need a little time to recover before diving into Joseph Auner’s Music of the 20th and 21st Centuries. A more thoroughly review of the present volume will appear on my professional blog, Collaborations, on Thursday, July 11, 2013.

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#30: Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)

Can love be defined solely by a person’s actions? Is it possible that past experiences and pain shape human interaction? These are two of the main questions raised by Kristin Hannah’s beautiful novel. Meredith and Nina are adult sisters reunited by their father’s death. As a dying request, their father asks that they attempt to get to know their unfeeling, distant mother. As she spins a Russian fairy tale that they have never heard in its entirety, Meredith and Nina begin to understand the experiences that have shaped their mother. Strangely, the fairy tale resounds with elements of truth. Who are the characters in the tale? Where does their mother fit in?

Transporting the reader from the winter gardens of the Pacific Northwest to Russian in the early 20th century, Winter Garden captivates from the outset and explores the pain of the human heart as well as the reality of unconditional love. It’s a beautiful story for anyone who has ever loved and lost.

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#29: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid)

Like most Americans, I clearly remember where I was on that fateful Tuesday morning when I first learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I was filled with anger, fear, and confusion over the attacks. It was impossible to understand why these things were happening. We held our collective breath as we wondered if these were isolated incidents or the first wave of attacks against our country.

Time has passed and the wounds have healed for many. Many authors have added their voice to the memories through works of fiction addressing the tragic events. The Reluctant Fundamentalist was an unusual review for this American reader. Still, I found the book thought-provoking as it explored the events resulting from the attacks from a Middle Eastern point of view.

The novel is set in Pakistan and is told entirely in first person narrative. Our narrator, Changez, studied at an American university and was in the early stages of a lucrative career when the attacks occurred. Changez finds himself living in dual reality of sorts; he is enjoying the American way of life while remembering his heritage as a Pakistani. The novel is uncomfortable to read at times as Hamid mingles criticisms of the American way of life (some might view these as anti-American statements) with a profound affection for other aspects of the nation that has forever changed him. The novel’s conclusion is both ambiguous and disconcerting; the final act is left to the reader’s interpretation. This is not a novel that I think most readers will truly “enjoy”, but I do believe it will become an important part of the dialogue regarding the American role in the global community and our ever-changing understanding of the modern American melting pot.

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#28: Fall of Giants (Ken Follett)

First of all, I feel the need to gloat…..I DID IT!!! I survived the 920 pages of this massive novel!

Okay….now that THAT’S out of the way, let’s get down to talking about Fall of Giants. The novel is the first book in The Century Trilogy and was a thrilling read. The story centers around the events surrounding World War I — from the earliest political rumblings and the Archduke’s assassination to the final cease-fire and the earliest appearance of Adolf Hitler in Germany — the novel is amazing in scope. In addition to the presence of historical figures (including Woodrow Wilson and Winston Churchill), the events come to life as we see the crisis through the eyes of six families. The plot is too complicated to attempt to summarize, but let me assure you that it is definitely worth the investment of a few weeks of your reading life. While it was overwhelming in the early stages of the novel to keep up with so many characters, their lives quickly intersected and the saga clarified itself.

I am excited to read the next novel in the trilogy (Winter of the World) and expect I’ll start it in the next week or so. For the moment, I need to come back down to a safer reader altitude and enjoy something not quite as expansive.

Fall of Giants is certainly one of the five best books I’ve read so far this year…..and is the longest of them all, without a doubt!


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