hello monday! (150316)


alex ross’ listen to this (FSG, 2010) is giving me pure joy.  pure joy and pure pleasure.  i think i’m almost done (again, not reading it in order but hopping around and reading what catches my fancy), which makes me sad, and i really do mean sad because i’m enjoying it so much — but, then again, i can simply go to the new yorker and browse the archives, so there’s that.

in his preface he writes,

“So why has the idea taken hold that there is something peculiarly inexpressible about music? The explanation may lie not in music but in ourselves. Since the mid-nineteenth century, audiences have routinely adopted music as a sort of secular religion or spiritual politics, investing it with messages as urgent as they are vague. Beethoven’s symphonies promise political and personal freedom; Wagner’s operas inflame the imaginations of poets and demagogues; Stravinsky’s ballets release primal energies; the Beatles incite an uprising against ancient social mores. At any time in history there are a few composers and creative musicians who seem to hold the secrets of the age. Music cannot easily bear such burdens, and when we speak of its ineffability we are perhaps protecting it from our own inordinate demands. For even as we worship our musical idols we also force them to produce particular emotions on cue: a teenager blasts hip-hop to psych himself up; a middle-aged executive puts on a Bach CD to calm her nerves. Musicians find themselves, in a strange way, both enshrined and enslaved. In my writing on music, I try to demystify the art to some extent, dispel the hocus-pocus, while respecting the boundless human complexity that gives it life."  (xi-xii)

(i copy-pasted this from my ibook, hence the capitalization.)

i dare say ross succeeds in his intentions, and i appreciate the lack of condescension or pretension that sometimes creeps into discussion about classical music — or about music in general.  ross doesn’t seek to elevate one form of music over another, which i find to be incredibly refreshing, especially as it allows music, in whatever form or whatever discipline, to shine and be seen in all its richness and complexity and adaptability.  the last sentence of the essay, “the music mountain,” says, “the remarkable thing is the power of music to put down roots wherever it goes” (264), and one of the things that makes this collection so fun to read is that it demonstrates just that, how music travels and takes root and shifts and grows, rubbing against different cultures and new technologies and changing and taking new forms.

music is such a visceral thing, and i call it a “thing” because it is so many things.  it’s an experience, an emotion, a discipline, a practice, a thought, an art, a way of life, and it’s a living, breathing thing that’s made new with every performance.  musicians bring different experiences and interpretations to music, just as listeners bring different predispositions and energies to music, and, when all these things come together, it’s like magic, the way the head and the heart collide.  in many ways, i suppose, to me, music will always be the highest form of art, but, then again, music is the thing that’s been with me longest and my memories are created and stored largely in sounds and songs.

in his art of fiction interview in the paris review, jonathan franzen said, “i’m more envious of music than of any other art form — the way a song can take your head over and make you feel so intensely and so immediately.  it’s like snorting the powder, it goes straight to your brain.”  i agree, but i’m more inclined to take it a step further — music goes straight to the heart, and therein does its incredible power lie.

(speaking of franzen, september is — april/may/june/july/august — five-and-a-half months away?  feels like for-e-ver.)  (i finished reading the kraus project over the weekend, so now im fully out of franzen.)  (this is weird.  i think the only other author whose entire backlist ive read is nicole krauss.  and jeffrey eugenides?  but they each only have three books out  right?)

on saturday night, i was going through my shelves, looking for something read when my eyes landed on rebecca mead’s my life in middlemarch (crown, 2014).  i picked this up when it was released last summer because (one) it has a beautiful cover and (two) i’m intrigued by the role of books in our lives and (three) i love mead’s journalistic pieces (her profile of lena dunham is the only thing, whether interview or otherwise, that has made me somewhat like dunham) (at least while i was reading it) (then it reset me to having no regard or interest for her again).

i never got much into it last summer, which shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of the book as i’m in the habit of starting books and pausing them and picking them up again later (books, like many other things, speak to us when we’re ready) (or we need to be ready to receive certain books) (sometimes, we pass those moments, like with me and salinger’s the catcher in the rye and, to a lesser degree, plath’s the bell jar).  i picked it up again on saturday night, though, and loved this passage from the introduction:

“reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book.  but a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.  there are books that seem to comprehend us just as much as we understand them, or even more.  there are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.

this kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance.  it might lead us back to the library in midlife, looking for something that eluded us before.”  (16)

and, so, my week’s challenge, i suppose:  to read george eliot’s middlemarch with mead’s my life in middlemarch as a “supplement” of sorts.  

not that mead’s book is meant to be a supplement.  i know myself, though, and my tendency to fizzle out, especially when books are long, and i also know my reading memory, so i’m going to try out my little reading experiment and see how it fares.  i would try to come up with some kind of blogging accountability, like i’ll give myself three days per section and write a post, but this week is ishiguro week (HELL YES), and i have other things like work and writing to do, so, uh, i suppose y’all will have to check back next monday to see how it’s gone.

things i miss about california:  driving.  family, friends, and long conversations in cool los angeles evenings about art and craft and publishing dreams.  korean food and tacos, tacos and korean food.  philz and its mint mojito iced coffee.  long drives at night when there’s no traffic and the music’s turned up and i'm alone with my thoughts (long drives are good for detangling story problems).  the pacific ocean.  the easy-going nature that comes hand-in-hand with all the goddamn sunshine.  the way california, to me, is locked in time, a place i can slip into with ease temporarily, like an old skin i've shed but return to for comfort every now and then.

things i love about new york city:  walking.  friends and catching up in coffee shops, small loud restaurants, four and twenty.  four and twenty.  easy access to great coffee.  redeemer.  easy access to great independent bookstores and all the amazing book events held year-round.  the brooklyn book festival.  the new yorker festival.  long rides on subways with earphones or not, a book or not, losing myself to the rhythm of the moving car and watching the people around me (long subways rides, also, are good for detangling story problems).  brooklyn.  the city and all its constant motion, the way it fits my heart and treats me with kindness and reminds me time and time again, hey, you’re home.

hello monday! (150309)

this post comes from california -- hello from california!  i'm here for the week on holiday, spending time with family and friends and eating way too much good food and filling the in-between spaces with reading -- and i suppose i'd like to say something about these books here, at least the ones i'm currently reading because i'm savoring them both, taking them slowly, piece by piece, which works because one's a collection of essays and the other's a collection of columns:  alex ross' listen to this (FSG, 2010) and cheryl strayed's tiny beautiful things:  advice on love and life from dear sugar (vintage, 2012).

i'm loving listen to this, which is a collection of pieces ross has written for the new yorker.  i'm not reading the essays in order but skipping around and reading the ones that catch my fancy (usually the ones about composers and musicians i know and like), and there's nothing fancy or particular about alex ross' writing -- he simply writes well, and he writes about music without getting lost in terminology or being overly technical or, even, too sentimental -- and i thoroughly enjoy reading him because he genuinely loves and appreciates music, and that comes off the page.

(you know, i have to say that i love the new yorker's non-fiction.  this isn't to say that i dislike its fiction but that i have a particular soft spot for its non-fiction because fiction allows for more leeway in style and voice [as it should], but its non-fiction takes different writers and their voices and brings them under the overall tone and voice of the new yorker.  which, yes, all magazines [should] do, but i really enjoy the new yorker's voice because it's smart without being too intellectual, intelligent without being academic or dull, proud of its identity without being full of itself.  i can't confess to reading every single piece in every single issue [or even to reading every issue every week because i tend to amass issues then sit down with a pile of them for a lovely evening of marathon reading], but i love having the new yorker and think its worth every penny of my subscription.)

and cheryl strayed -- oh, strayed as dear sugar is abso-fucking-lutely brilliant.  she's blunt and honest but generous and kind and sympathetic, and she makes me laugh and cry and nod my head in vehement agreement.  i was introduced to her from a link to her column on envy, which is wonderfully paired with her column on writing like a motherfucker, and i'm happy that they made this into a book to have and to hold.  i only wish there were a hardcover of this (i believe it was only published in paperback?  please correct me if i'm wrong).

there's more i actually want to say in regards to those two columns linked above, though, and specifically about craft and querying and writing, but i shall save that for another week.  i've been having these wonderful meandering conversations with my illustrator buddy about all those things, so there are lots of thoughts bubbling around in my head, which i shall endeavor to get down into articulate words, but i suppose i shall leave y'all with this:  write because you love it.  create because you can't help it.  pursue the art because not to pursue the art is simply not an option.  and, if you decide to make something of it, to pursue publication or production or whatever it is your art deems "professional" and "a career," then go into it knowing that it's going to hurt like hell and your heart is going to be broken over and over and over again and that you're going to have to pick up the pieces over and over and over again.  do it because it's worth the pain (and it will be pain), because you want it so bad it fucking hurts, and it's the trying that makes it worthwhile, the attempts that make you a better writer, a better artist, a better creator that truly count.  do it because the work itself brings you joy, not the desire for recognition or fame or a huge advance.  do it because you must.

hello monday! (150119)

i've been thinking about a posting schedule, about wanting to write things on a regular basis, maybe nothing "official" or themed but more casual and spur of the moment.  part of it is so i write more consistently, and another part is so i can write about books (or maybe even articles) i'm reading in the moment because the truth is that i start a lot more books than i finish (not because i start and drop books but because i have 4-5 books going at any given moment).  i thought about maybe a mid-week post on wednesday or an end-of-the-week post on friday, but i seem to have landed on a beginning-of-the-week post on monday, so here we go!  hello monday!

finished kazuo ishiguro's the buried giant (knopf, march 2015) and katie coyle's vivan apple at the end of the world (houghton mifflin harcourt, january 2015) last week, and they were two very different reads.  the buried giant (which i have been wanting to get my hands on since it was announced last may) was a surprise, not at all what i expected it to be, and i'm not quite sure how i feel about that yet.  vivian apple was a fun, breezy, but predictable read, and vivian's voice was funny and warm and earnest, and my favorite thing about it was her friendship with harp.  (we need more awesome female friendships depicted in the arts/media.)  all in all, it was a good reading week with lots of chess pie in different flavors -- started off with lemon chess on monday then had a chocolate chess on wednesday and a grapefruit chess on friday ... but then i broke the thread by getting salted caramel apple on saturday ...

longer, more in-depth reviews will come at the end of the month!  (started a dedicated book blog and, nope, still not committed to writing full, individual reviews of every book i read.  sorry.)  (not really.)  (but i will give the buried giant its own treatment because it's ishiguro.)

and now i plot ways to get my hands on purity ... september is a loooooong ways away ...

currently reading alex ross' the rest is noise (FSG, 2007) because one of my smaller reading goals for 2015 is to read more about music.  specifically classical music because it's one of my loves -- i grew up with it, was classically trained, but didn't learn that much about the history or cultural backdrop of music, so i'd like to learn more about music in the world.  thus far, the rest is noise has been a great read -- it's been fun to learn how wagner, mahler, strauss, debussy, stravinsky, ravel, etcetera are all connected, and, next, i'll be looking for titles that go into classical-/romantic-era composers because i've a giant soft spot for them!

here's to a new week!  have a good week, all!