DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jun 4 2010

Welcome to ShareReads!

by ShareReads

This is a new weekly book discussion post on DCPLive, in which we’ll talk about the thing library staff and patrons love most—books! It is also one part of our Adult Summer Reading program for 2010, which started this week. You get credit in the program if you participate in ShareReads. For more information, click here.

ShareReads will appear on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it.  This person might also ask you a question or two about what you are reading, and then…

We now come to the most important part of ShareReads, which is you! The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it.  The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Sound easy? Well, here we go:

This week, I’ve been dipping into a collection of essays by a music critic named Harold C. Schonberg. Anyone remember him? He died a few years ago in 2003, and was best known for his work at the New York Times as chief music critic from 1960 to 1980. He continued to publish books and reviews after his retirement, including Facing the Music, which I’m now reading. This book collects reviews and articles from the 1960’s until 1980 (the book appeared in 1981).

The T.V. character J.R. Ewing used to be known as “the man you love to hate.” If a music critic filled that role for me in my teens and twenties, it was Mr. Schonberg. He earned my extreme disdain for his hypercritical stance against my musical idol, Leonard Bernstein. I also felt he was unprofessional for sometimes attributing his opinions anonymously to others to bolster his case. At times I found his writing pretentious, and he could be misleading. He sometimes made the most irresponsible claims about composers or musicians, some of whom were long dead, and couldn’t respond.

So why would I be revisiting him now? Good question! Well, it’s been a while since I’ve read his work. I’m older now, less fanatical in my devotion to LB, and less easily wound up by Schonberg’s sometimes provocative or highhanded prose. Revisiting the writing, there’s less of that than I remembered.  I’m also interested in some of his opinions about composers who are less appreciated, and many of these I now enjoy myself. I’m curious about his thoughts on older artists who have now faded from the public consciousness. I care less about the faults I used to find in his work (now I just laugh), and while I still may not always agree with him, there’s more room in my world now for opinions which contradict my own :-). Schonberg’s topics covered the gamut of the classical music world, and I wish I could provide you with an online sample. If you like saucy music writing, I recommend his work to you. Facing the Music is a pretty good place to start, as is The Lives of the Great Composers.

Has there ever been an author whose work pushed your buttons, for better or worse? Who and why? Come on, ‘fess up!

P.S. Your posts don’t have to be anywhere close to the length of this one. I’m just so excited about summer reading, and I got a bit carried away!

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Ardene June 4, 2010 at 10:18 AM

I’m excited about a book I picked up off our new book shelves – Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe. This is the story of four Mexican-American girls in the first decade of the twenty-first century as they graduate from high school in Denver, Colorado and move into adulthood. The girls are from working class families; two of the young women are here legally & two are not. All have the grades and the ambition to attend college, but none of them have the money, and the two who are here illegally cannot apply for financial aid because of their immigration status.

The author is a reporter and is married to the mayor of Denver. During the time covered by the book, a local police officer is killed by an illegal immigrant, adding to local tensions about the best way to handle immigration across the border between the US and Mexico.

Thorpe’s book explores not only the issues these women face, but the complexity of the immigration discussion the US is embroiled in. The The book so far is quite readable.

On a lighter note, I’ve recently read my first Robin Hobb fantasy, Dragon Keeper. I’m going to have to go back and read the live ship series that precedes it while I wait for the sequel to come out.

MAS June 4, 2010 at 11:28 AM

There is a series of books called Thirty-Three and a Third (33⅓); each book is one person’s review of an album that was important to them. The writer also talks about the historical context of the music and what it means to them. It is a great series for liner note readers like me and people who love to read the reviews of music. The series includes everything from the Prince, Pink Floyd, and Dusty Springfield. I have read a few dealing with the Beatles, A Tribe Called Quest, and Nas.

If you are a fan of old hip-hop and constantly wondered about the making of the music there is a great book called Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies by Brian Coleman that I also enjoyed.

Dub-Masta D June 4, 2010 at 11:29 AM

First let me say that I really love Leonard Bernstein, too. Have you seen any of his “Young People’s Concerts” on DVD? They are classified as children’s materials, but they are usually interesting to people of all ages, musicians or not.

Second, Schonberg is a great writer, but never exempt from his own biases. Once his career was established, his ego took over and he editorialized a bit. It seems to have worked out though. In the case of Bernstein, it made both of them more famous.

If you want another great book on the private lives of composers, look at Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes. It includes a story of Verdi personally refunding a disgruntled opera-goer’s travel expences and ticket price to his opera.
Travel to Italy: $$$
Ticket to Verdi’s opera: $$$
Dinner with friends: $$$
Having Mr. Verdi foot the bill: priceless.

Naidy June 4, 2010 at 1:47 PM

These books by Mr.Schonberg seem very fascinating! Granted I’m not as well-versed in classical music as I could be (the farthest I got was a Music Appreciation course in college)but these books appear to be good starting points or reference points for getting to know some classical works and composers.
There is a book that sprang to my mind when I read this post. It’s called Song: The World’s Best Songwriters on Creating the Music That Moves us (I believe that’s the whole title). It’s not classical music, of course, but it’s a great book that delves into the lives and inspirations of pop music’s most celebrated songsmiths. I love reading about artists, the creative process and, in some cases even critical essays and reviews of artists and their work. Nice post, ShareReads!

Lesley B June 4, 2010 at 1:58 PM

Does DCPL have a beginner’s guide to classical music that you can recommend? I’m one of those people who knows classical music only from Looney Tunes cartoons and I find classical music CD covers as confusing as wine labels.

MAS, your comment inspired me to finally read Nick Hornby’s Songbook – on request as of today.

Ken June 4, 2010 at 5:04 PM

These are interesting recommendations! My reading list is getting longer.

I like the Slominsky book very much, and I plan on looking for these other popular music titles, especially the one about songwriters.

I love the Young People’s Concerts, and for those who are curious, the ones which have been released on DVD are owned by DCPL. They are a great way to begin to explore classical music, and there’s a lot of variety in them. I think one of Bernstein’s great gifts as a teacher was to bring it all “down to earth” and speak clearly in plain language, and make great music accessible in the best possible way. His enthusiasm is positively infectious (for me, anyway).

Dub-Masta makes a great point regarding the Schonberg/Bernstein connection. Schonberg did sometimes give Bernstein postive reviews, and whatever he said, it always made for lively reading. The writing is well done, and the point of criticism is to make one think, after all. Schonberg was also featured in an interesting book called “Converstaions about Bernstein” by William Westbrook Burton, published after the conductor’s death. In fact, he gets the first entry in the writers/critics section.

For Lesley, I’d like to mention “The New York Times essential library: Classical Music”, because it covers some of the best known pieces, and some interesting ones which are less well-known. There are some entertaining essays in that book.

If you’re really ambitious, there’s “1001 Classical Recordings you must hear before you die.” Then there’s also “The good NPR curious listener’s guide to opera” in the catalog, and the same author, William Berger, has written a good guide to Puccini you can also check out, called “Puccini without excuses”. If you like it, he’s also written “Wagner without Fear”, and “Verdi with a Vengence.” (Both these composers were born in 1813, so they have a 200th birthday coming up.) Now if he could also move on to Richard Strauss without stress and Mozart without moderation…

I still love the Bugs Bunny Rabbit of Seville (for years the only Rossini I liked) and What’s Opera, Doc, too, by the way. I wish I could remember the name of the cartoon, but there’s also the great one in which an opera singer moves next door to Bugs, and the great rabbit finally teaches him a lesson by impersonating Leopold Stokowski. It never fails to make me laugh.

Kay June 7, 2010 at 5:10 PM

I love to listen to many types of music, including classical. One of the most memorable experiences of my life was actually attending a concert by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in Lincoln Center in New York City. My friends and I got the tickets at the last minute on our first visit to the city. I don’t know what Mr. Schonberg said, but for my money he was misinformed.
A book I can highly recommmend is The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. This novella demonstrates why Hemingway won so many literary awards. The reader follows the old Cuban fisherman as he goes out to sea and patiently, doggedly, finally makes the catch of his life.

Veronica W June 9, 2010 at 10:03 AM

Reading this post and the comments made me feel like a member of the deprived underclass, who has been invited to a formal banquet. I wanted to participate but didn’t really know which “fork” to use. Then the movie Fatal Attraction came to mind, with Glen Close sitting on the floor, flicking the light switch on and off, as she listened to Madam Butterfly. I loved it then and cried along with that crazy, unhappy lady. Remembering that now feels like someone has just whispered in my ear,(at the banquet) “Start with the fork on the outside and work your way in.” I can join in. I am now pleased to say that I have requested the cd Opera Goes to the Movies and anticipate much pleasure from my selection. Who knows where that will lead? Thanks!

Veronica W June 9, 2010 at 10:30 AM

Oops. I got so carried away with my discovery that I forgot…this is ShareREADS. Oh well, I read the post and the other comments. (:-))

Tamika S. June 9, 2010 at 10:12 PM

@Veronica – Well, the movie started as a screenplay so I think it still counts.

I haven’t read many of the titles mentioned in the comments but I have had the pleasure of enjoying a few titles where music was a major part of the narrative. In Bebe Campbell Moore’s, Singin’ in the Come Back Choir, the author showed how one person can help transform a community and how love can bring you through anything.

Another title I enjoyed was Tananarive Due’s Joplin’s Ghost. If you enjoy the supernatural and music, then this is the one for you…the ghost of Scott Joplin plays a major roll in influencing the work of a contemporary female artist. Both are available through the library. Ms. Due did an excellent job providing detailed biographical information about the ragtime composer. Happy Reading!!!

Ken June 10, 2010 at 10:11 AM

There’s also a series of three ragtime mysteries in our catalog by Larry Karp. We just added the last title. I can’t offer a personal recommendation, since I haven’t read them yet, but it thought this might be of interest.

Nolan June 10, 2010 at 6:54 PM

I, too, am adding to my future reading list. I’ve always wanted to read Due and Joplin’s Ghost sounds like an interesting one to start with. My knowledge of classical is pretty limited…I’ve attended many ASO concerts with my parents over the years, but I can never remember composers and titles, and so I feel a little lost in discussions. When I was a kid, I had a set of albums that included a classical one, as well as one about the instruments of the orchestra…but apparently the knowledge didn’t stick. 😉

Greg H. June 11, 2010 at 4:44 PM

I’ve never really warmed up to classical music, although I too remember with great clarity Bugs Bunny as an opera singer and Elmer Fudd singing the Wagnerian “Kill the Wabbit!” I do, however, own a handful of CDs just for their different renditions of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio”. It’s been in several movie soundtracks, most memorably in PLATOON in the scene where Willem DaFoe is killed, in slow motion, by the NVA as he tries to reach the choppers. It is just the most moving piece of music! Oh, and I remember seeing at least one of the Bernstein children’s concerts while in grade school. The medium was 16mm movie film, not a DVD, but it’s nice to know they’re still available.

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