a few more books

Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms Eugenia Bone, 2011, Rodale Books, non-fiction. Steve saw this book  in the Star Tribune.  He got it from the library, and then, of course, I read it as well.  We both really liked it and got it as a shared Christmas gift.  I found the chapter about the future of truffle cultivation really interesting, but really this book goes into every aspect about fungi – except identification.

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life by Ana Homayoun, 2010, Penguin Group, non-fiction.   Hmm, I wonder why I checked out this book from the library.  Is there a particular person I was thinking of? Anyway, this is fairly helpful book.  Some things I had already figured out, like limiting electronics while my kids studied.  If you don’t have a lot of time, most of the information I was interested was in Chapter 5: organizing binders and planners. The first few chapters deal with anecdotes and the last few with special circumstances, which fortunately we don’t have.  It is an easy book to read and I will reread Chapter 4, 5 and 8 again to solidify what I read in my mind.

The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters by Timothy Schaffert, 2002, Penguin Putman Inc., fiction.  I read the first few chapters of this book on the chapter a day emails I get.  The first few chapters were very engaging and the premise was nice.  He does maintain that sort engaging style through the whole book.  He also captures the feeling of  the feckless late adolescence – early 20s time in life.  However, although things happen in this book, they don’t seem to affect the characters.  The two main characters seem unchanged by the one meeting her mother after a long period of abandonment and the other one being separated from her sister for the first time.  There is a lack of stake in this book that I think is its failing.

The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going by George Friedman, 2011, Random House.   His basic premise is the United States is a global empire and the president is the emperor. He defines what he means by an empire, and his reasons for believing the United States is one. Then he goes on to make deep detailed predictions on how the United States will be interacting with the world in the next decade.  He goes through every important country in the world, and several that I didn’t even realize their importance.  He talks about historical influences on modern situations that I had not considered such as the triad of power of Russia, France and Germany, and how that affects modern foreign affairs. He talks about cultural and economic pressures. All in all, it is a comprehensive study of geopolitical pressures in the next decade.

This Life is in your hands


I have an interest in the farming movement, the hippie return to the land movement. I saw this autobiography, This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak (P.S.) at Mother Earth magazine. Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue, were some of the pioneers in this movement.  They moved to a small piece of land in Maine and built their farm from nothing. Yet, this is Ms. Coleman’s autobiography of this time, told first from her perspective and then adding to her memories with talking to others.  She was frustrated with her father’s drive to make the farm succeed, at, what she believes, the expense of his family.  It is interesting to read how even though she loves her parents, and she tries to understand them, she does hold them in a bit of judgement for her unconventional childhood.  It seems a reoccurring theme with the books I read lately, of the parent’s selfish dream overtaking the child’s need for a childhood.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak (P.S.)

The rest is noise

I have recently read Alex Ross’s book, “The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates serious music, especially the music student who is being introduced to the Twentieth Century canon. I have read many music history books like this, and I must admit at first, the title put me off. I thought, “here goes another historian who will be exclusive with the difficulties of contemporary music.” Gladly, I was wrong. Ross is gracious with the full canon of contemporary composers and gives everyone their due. For me, it was a satisfying feeling to read about the composers that I have appreciated but of whom are given a passing glance in other history books. These books, like that of the high art coffee table variety, are usually dominated by well-known composers, and the historians, while going through the motions, sift through their worn out writing with the same, safe, predictable history. Ross not only has his perspective from his research, with fifteen years in writing this book, he gives color to the composers private and public lives. He writes about how they functioned within their musical and political culture. But more importantly, Ross is a music lover and a fluent, informed listener. And as a historian, he is able to articulate on a formal level what is happening in the music and why it is significant. Ross begins his story with Strauss and Mahler and ends it in the late 1980s with John Adams. There is enough biographical information on each composer that the reader gets a sense of the artist. For example, Ross writes about how Strauss (a Jew) lived under Nazi Germany and his relationship with Mahler and Schoenberg. He does the same with Shostakovich and Prokofiev under Stalin. Ross’s writing is succinct and lively throughout the whole book. He may give some composers too much biographical emphasis like Britten, and some too little attention like Varese, Berio, and Xenakis, (I was somewhat disappointed with this), but at least all the composers are given their due. Also Ross isn’t afraid to personally criticize some composers like Boulez, who comes off as an elitist tyrant, setting the agenda for serious music after the war. Ross’s writing gives a cultural and historical context for each composer and  why their music is significant. For example, he will give the reader an idea how other composers reacted at the time to Schoenberg’s 12 tone row, and not just a glib historical fact. Ross’s focus moves from political and personal to more serious matters, giving the reader a nice well-rounded ride. In other words, his story isn’t didactic or stuffy. There are no suspicions here, just a matter of fact voice tone and clarity in historical perspective. Ross fully tracks the continuing drama of the position of atonal music in modernism.  After you read the book, you’ll  know what Ross means by his title; he is writing about all that is important in serious twentieth century music and the rest is noise. As an afterthought, Ross has a short suggested listening list. You can find these well known examples at the library. Also, if you are not familiar with the pieces that are discussed in this book, you can find them played on You tube.
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century

Trip of the tongue


I like Elizabeth Little have a love of languages.  In Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages , the author travels around the United States investigating different languages.  We all know about Spanish and perhaps we also know about little eddies of different languages in different parts of the country but this book takes us on a deeper tour.  This is by no means an exhaustive exploration of languages in United States, instead it is a tourist’s view of language.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter about Native American language.  Although sad, it was interesting, and she illustrates how different the languages and the cultures were when European settlers interacted with Natives.  She also talks about Basque in American culture, one language that is unique in the world because linguists still can’t find where exactly it fits in the language family tree.  In America, its influence is small but surprising.

This book reminded me a great deal of Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.  Both books layer ideas on the landscape of the United States.  Elizabeth Little adds the layer of language and people, while Sarah Vowell lays history on the landscape.  Then both books add a layer personal experience and self depreciating humor on top.  Both books are very fun to read and full of interesting facts.

Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages Elizabeth Little, 2012 Bloomsbury

Life in Year One

For a Christian, there is an undeniable curiosity about Christ.  This book, as stated by the author, does not try to tell us how Christ lived, instead it tries, as much as anyone can know without a time machine, tries to reconstruct the living habits of the time.  Of course, these living habits and cultural constructs reflect back to Christ, and make us understand him better.

I was interested to learn about how Christ felt when he came to Jerusalem, and how the roof of the house the man was let down into was probably reeds.  Also, how poor the little corner that Jesus came from was.  All of these things, added to the reflected quality of the book.

This was a great book to listen to.  The actor had a slightly tongue in cheek way of reading that melded well with the enormous amounts of author’s notes dispersed throughout the book.  At first, I thought this author’s note asides would be annoying but for the most part they were not, except when the fell in to the trivial, as when the author talks about the crucifix and Madonna (the rock star, not the Blessed Mother).
Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine