What I'm Reading

Few things are as efficient at making life more enjoyable than a good book recommendation.

The change in schedule during pandemic had originally eaten up much of my reading time. I’ve adapted…as we tend to do. So I thought I’d share a bit about what I’m reading. I find read lists from people I follow to be the best sources of new material. And I’ve found being provided with vetted new material to read is one of the great sources of wealth I am constantly seeking.

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Mozart: The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford. One of the best biographies I’ve read in a bit. It finds no need for the tortured artist narrative. And you get lots of what’s interesting about 18th century Hapsburg upper middle class life (life was pretty good). Swafford is a composer so the book gets somewhat technical on the music side but if you have some understanding of the basic nuts and bolts of classic composition (what an aria is…what a libretto is etc.) you can keep up. And it really adds to understanding Mozart as so much of his conscious thought was taken up by the medium of music composition. There’s also an appendix that helps if you want to start from scratch.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Translated by Ken Liu. If you want to get familiar with a culture, read their science fiction. The translation from Mandarin apparently doesn’t lose much (I’m told) and the writing doesn’t distract from a deeply original and interesting story that has some pretty relevant undertones relating to the contemporary “science-ism” discourse today. It’s also a labyrinth of imagination that reminds you of the savant like brilliance of great science fiction writers.

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer. Packer is a master with a style that’s something like if Caro were telling you about the book he’s writing. He traces the arc of career diplomat Richard Holbrooke from his time in Vietnam through the Obama administration. Packer paints Holbrooke as deeply flawed and ambitious but human and sympathetic. “Try to separate the best from the worst—you can’t” This is America personified. And this I think is Packer’s point.

Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition by Hollis Robbins. Sonnets are old structures. To express protest within them and to make them your own is a sort of unbreakable agency. These are my words not Hollis’s. But that’s what I took away from the collection. Poetry is a medium I’ve ignored my whole life, with regret. This is a book with scholarly focus and aims mostly beyond what I can grasp. I learned a lot from the book though. Mostly that reading 19th Century African American poetry gives power to voices that the history I was taught never took the time to individualize.

The Gospels, Translated by Sarah Ruden. While many kids were taking health and sex ed classes I was taking the New Testament taught by Sister Theon in Catholic School. I’ve spent more than my fair share with the Good Book. Ruden’s translation is remarkable in that it treats the original text as primarily an opportunity of scholarly translation instead of sacred texts to be handled through structural norms that are distant from both us as readers today and the original texts. The notes and glossaries are fantastic. The outcome is a closer relationship to the texts I’ve read my whole life.

Five is a good start…I’m actually a slow reader so I read multiples books at once so I don’t get bored…more to follow.