I know it is perhaps a bit late to suggest a summer reading list, but hey, some of us work full time.
Currently I am in the middle of reading three books at once. I don’t normally attempt such things, but they are all generally related in subject matter. The connecting theme being music.
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by renowned psychiatrist and neurologist Oliver Sacks, delves deep into the physicality of music and the brain. In the book, Sacks offers interesting commentary and insight regarding rare brain conditions caused by music. One of the more well known conditions, synesthesia, is fleshed out with many interesting real life stories of those who have the rare condition of “seeing sound”. Some of the more extreme and less commonly known about topics deal with conditions such as “musical epilepsy”, “musical seizures”, “the science behind catchy tunes”, ”cochlear amusia”, and “musical savants”, just to name a few. This is a great read for anyone interested in the “why” behind the musicality of our species.
The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire, by Wayne Koestenbaum, is definitely a read reserved for the opera lover. With the attention to detail and a style comparable to that of social philosopher Michel Foucault, this book delves into the subtleties and obsessive intricacies of being a truly die hard opera fan and admirer of all things “diva“. With a chapter entitled “The Codes of Diva Conduct”, one can only imagine the details he expounds upon. I’m about half way through it, and it reads like a diary with many short sections/chapters, each with its own confined narrative. Sections titled “Diva Prose”, “The Shut-In Fan: Opera at Home” and “A Pocket Guide to Queer Moments in Opera”, are sure to keep your wit wholly satisfied. I will admit, I am not quite the opera fanatic to the extent this book assumes the reader is, so there were moments where I did not get punch lines or quite understand the significance of certain dates/moments, etc. That being said, there is still plenty good to be gained from reading it. I can’t get through a few pages without thinking of Kathleen Battle and all her divalicious goodness!
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, is a must read for every classical music lover interested in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for music created within the last 100 years. Ross’ knowledge of music and eloquent style bring to light many interesting historical tidbits of the twentieth century as told through the music and musicians of the time. Not just a book about music, it also delves into the cultural forces behind the music created.
To quote Opera News contributor Jonathan Rabb, “Ross’ achievement is all the more astounding because it makes music essential to the understanding of history beyond the history of the music itself. And what could matter more than that?”
Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me before fall term begins August 24th. The Rest is Noise alone tops out at almost 700 pages. I would be most grateful to receive comments from those of you who have already read these works and perhaps have some suggestions for further reading.
(Note: In case you are interested in purchasing any of these titles, and in the interest of supporting private book outlets, I have linked to a privately owned bookstore whom I support, Urban Think. The cost of all titles ordered online is only $1 above the price listed on Amazon, and a part of all proceeds goes towards a local literacy fund.)