Winter Reading

Nothing like a couple of weeks off to get some long-delayed reading in.  With ten days of plane rides and hotel rooms, there was plenty to be had.  Here’s what’s been through my brain:

I finally finished Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  I’ve been working on it since October, and through a combination of being busy, tired and, unfortunately, not as interested as I hoped, I finally finished it before we left for Christmas.  Campbell’s thesis is quite compelling, but perhaps I came to this book too late.  When one watched as many sitcoms as I did when I was a kid, one realizes that there are only so many stories.  For all the heroic myths to be basically the same myth… well, sure.  I buy it.  On the other hand, I could do without the Freudian psycho-sexual mumbo-jumbo.  That’s what I get for reading a book written in the 1940s.  Some things to think about though, even though the book felt like assigned reading toward the end.

Next up was Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein.  I would highly recommend this.  I was never a great student in physics in either high school or college, due more to distraction than anything else, but Isaacson does a reasonably good job of explaining the science while never letting it get in the way of the story of the man.  Particularly interesting to me was the role that music played in Einstein’s free time, and even in his humanitarian work.

Then came John Adams’ new memoir, Hallelujah Junction.  I will have to reread parts of this to try to gain insight from the composer’s descriptions of how he works–I think our approaches may be similar.  In all, well-written, if a bit self-indulgent (but then, it’s a memoir).  I sometimes got the impression that Adams was trying to pronounce on certain issues that he felt were required, and there were several sections that seemed to run “That’s what I think about composer Y, now this is what I think of composer Z, and in a minute I’ll tell you all about composer X.”  But–really nice to read a memoir by a living composer that isn’t sensational or mean or tell-all in nature.  I’ve never met John Adams, but his book makes him seem like someone with whom I could have a really good conversation, with me doing most of the listening.

Now, if you haven’t read Thomas L. Friedman’s new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, you must go get it.  I hope Friedman wins another Pulitzer, because he makes the case for saving the planet and then proceeds to show how we can do it, without saying that it will be easy, or that we won’t have to make sacrifices.  If our leaders will read this book and overcome politics to get on top of this problem, Friedman makes it seem like we will be living in a Star Trek world by the middle of the century.  If you think environmentalism is just recycling and hugging trees and wearing sandals, or just preachiness from Al Gore, you must read this book.  There is money to be made.  Can a national approach to tackling global warming have the benefit of getting us out of this recession?  It sure seems that way.  I hope someone gave Barak Obama this book for Christmas.

Then, yesterday, I started Brian Fagan’s 2000 book The Little Ice Age.  It’s good so far, although I’m not sure the author is clear enough about the way that ocean currents and prevailing weather systems work together to drive climate…I may have to look for some clarification on that.  I’m also afraid that I may have spoiled my supper on this one by watching a History Channel (I think) documentary, Little Ice Age: Big Chill.  Oh well.

On deck–The Best American Short Stories 2008, the latest Music Theory Spectrum, and the rest of the counterpoint textbook I’ll be teaching from this semester.  I’ll also be rereading the Bible.  If anyone has recommendations, I’d love to hear them.  I’ll be travelling quite a bit the next few months.

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