What I’ve been reading, vol. ii

I’m back for a second reading round-up (previously). With these out of the way, I can turn to a nice stack of fiction, and after that, I’m going to do a little overhaul and start prioritizing some of the recommendations I’ve gathered. As for these, I’d say #5, #6, and #8 were the best of the bunch:
1. The Jazz Ear. Ben Ratliff met with jazz musicians and listened to music with them. It sounds like such a great idea, but I think it fails in that people who play music aren’t always good at talking about it. (I should mention that I generally like Ratliff’s writing for the New York Times.) I thought the most interesting bit on creativity came from the interview with Maria Schneider, who uses one art to understand another:

When she composes, she often plays a sequence into a tape recorder, then gets up to play it back, and moves around the room to the phrases of the music, seeing how it feels when danced. “It helps me figure out where things are, and what needs to be longer.”

2. The Maltese Falcon. I loved the movie. I found the book didn’t have the snappy pace I was hoping for. Good story, though.

3. The Year of Living Biblically. Good ol’ DNF. I realized I wasn’t that interested, but I hear good things.

4. But Beautiful. Author Geoff Dyer calls it “imaginative criticism”. It’s a creative sort of nonfiction where he imagines vignettes based on the facts of some famous jazz people’s lives. More about the personalities and trials than the music. I couldn’t get in to it.

5. Blues & Chaos: The Music Writing of Robert Palmer. This is a good collection that’s particularly strong in the blues, but covers a really wide range. Many of the pieces are short ones written for newspaper, so you’ll find it easy to flip through. I liked it.

6. How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities. The best part, which I do recommend checking out, is the first 1/3, which reviews the historic of economic thought with a special focus on theories of market efficiency and failure (e.g. Smith, Keynes, Hayek, Walras, Pareto, Fama, Arrow, etc). The rest of the book explores some recent thinkers and our current crisis/recession thing. I didn’t find it nearly as interesting as the first part, but maybe that’s because I’ve read so much about the crisis already.

7. Riders of the Purple Sage. DNF. Didn’t read enough to speak for it. I’m still interested in reading some westerns.

8. The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present. This was nice to read just before bedtime. Sleepiness and inattention kept me from diving into the longer ones, but I bookmarked a bunch of the shorter ones that I liked. Generally, I liked the ancient stuff much more than the old and the modern. Here are a few:

Written by Anacreon, translated by Barbara Hughes Fowler:

I boxed with a harsh opponent,
but now I look up, I raise my head,
and owe great thanks that I
have escaped in every respect
the bonds of Love
Aphrodite made tough.
Let someone bring me wine in a jar
and water that bubbles.

Written by Menander, translated by Philip Vellacott:

By Athene, gentlemen, I can’t find a metaphor
To illustrate what has happened—what’s demolishing me
All in a moment. I turn things over in my mind.
A tornado, now: the time it takes to wind itself up,
Get nearer, hit you, then tear off—why, it takes an age.
Or a gale at sea; but there, you’ve breathing-space to shout
“Zeus save us!” or “Hang on to those ropes!” or to wait
For the second monster wave, and then the third, or try
To get hold of a bit of wreckage. But with me—oh, no!
One touch, one single kiss—I’d had it, I was sunk.

Written by Callimachus, translated by Frank Nisetich:

There’s something hidden here, yes, by Pan,
   by Dionysos, there’s fire under this ash.
Careful, now: don’t get too close! Often a river
   eats away at a wall, bit by bit, invisibly.
Even so, Menexenos, I fear you’ll slip
   under my skin and topple me into love.

I also liked several from Palladas. One translated by Edmund Keeley:

This is all the life there is.
It is good enough for me.
Worry won’t make another.
Or make this one last longer.
The flesh of man wastes in time.
Today there’s wine and dancing.
Today there’s flowers and women.
We might as well enjoy them.
Tomorrow—nobody knows.

Another from Palladas translated by Dudley Fitts:

Praise, of course, is best: plain speech breeds hate.
But, ah, the Attic honey
Of telling a man exactly what you think of him!

And one last one from Christophoros of Mytilene, translated by Peter Constantine:

How much better if an ox were to sit on your tongue
than for your poems to plod like oxen over fields.

9. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This was okay. It is hard to write a great business book.

10. The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. I like the efficiency of this one. It’s a nice kick in the pants/attitude adjustment. It doesn’t do much more than get a basic, broad message across in 20 or so minutes, and it that sense, probably is the last career guide you’ll need.

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