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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Want to listen to one of the great orchestral showpieces of all time? Sure you do! Here's Rimsky-Korsakov's Cariccio Espagnol. And you can't go wrong with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A toast to Edgar A

Happy birthday to Edgar Allan Poe. #poetry #books #bookstagram #reading #edgarallanpoe

Today is Edgar Allan Poe's birthday.

It's pure coincidence, of course, but a happy one nonetheless, that today I also managed to get the ebook of The Chilling Killing Wind finally available. Poe's poem Annabel Lee is central to this book's story, after all. Poe has been one of my favorite poets ever since high school. There's just no getting over him.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Something for Thursday

So this week in our ongoing Music Challenge brings us to Entry Seven: A song to drive to. There's a lot of great driving music out there, but I always find that the James Bond movies provide a virtual encyclopedia of music that you can play while driving. Even moreso if you're someplace where you're able to drive fast.

Here's one of the series's two purely instrumental themes, and one of my absolute favorite movie themes of all time. And, I might add, incredibly fun to blast while driving. It's the theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Here's something interesting, not for how good it is but rather how good it isn't. This concert overture, creatively titled by its composer "Concert Overture #1," is a student work that makes for a nice and pleasant listen, but that's about it. There's no hint at all here of greatness to come from the composer, none of deeper musical thought at work. If this piece represented the height of its composer's powers, that composer would be a forgotten name today.

However, this particular composer turned out to be a bit of a late-bloomer, and by the time his true abilities actually did manifest themselves, this composer ended up not only being one of the immortal greats of music, but the dominant force of Western artistic life in the second half of the 19th century. Not bad for a late-blooming Richard Wagner, eh?

Here's Wagner's Concert Overture No. 1. It's a pleasant-enough work with some Beethovenian influence, and not a hint of Rheingold or Tristan und Isolde to be found.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Meanwhile...'s what happens when your doggo is convinced that you have something yummy that he would enjoy.

The Watch

So on Christmas Eve we were all gathered in my parents' living room, opening gifts. I went to open one particular box and I heard my sister say to my mother, "Oh look, he's opening it." So I knew that there was something of note therein.

What it was, was a pocket watch.

There are times when Christmas hits you between the eyes. My parents gave me this beautiful pocket watch...which belonged to my grandfather, whom I never met. He died in 1949, twenty-two years before I was born. I never knew it even existed, so far as I c

I took it out and admired it. It's clearly an antique, and I was already fascinated by it. I own one other antique pocket watch, and two that aren't antiques that I got from a "steampunk" dealer at a local con. This one is bigger than the antique watch I already own, and it's a hefty one too. I could tell that at some point it was lovingly restored. I figured that my sister, who has an eye for such things and does a lot of antiquing, had spotted it in some emporium or curio shoppe someplace...or that maybe my mother spotted it somewhere.

Little did I know that it belonged to my grandfather.

My father's father was a bricklayer by trade, and he fought in World War I. Apparently he joined the war effort as a way of getting out of his tiny town in the hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where his only option for the future would have been to work in the coal mines. I know very little about him save those things, and that he dealt with a broken window in their house by not replacing the window but by building a fireplace. I never knew him. He died in 1949, when my father was only ten, twenty-two years before I was to come along. (I never knew my maternal grandfather, either, and both of my grandmothers died the winter of 1986-87, so I am to this day bewildered by people who live into their adulthood and beyond with multiple grandparents alive.)

I have no idea how Grandpa Sedinger (what would I have called him?) met Grammy (that's what we called my father's mother; my mother's mother was Gramma) or how they courted or when they married. I have no idea how they came to live in a brick house in Pittsburgh, or much of anything else. Nor did I know, until the moment I took it out of the box, that he had owned a pocket watch by the Hamilton Watch Company. But as soon as I learned of the watch's heritage, I couldn't help staring at it just a few moments longer. An old thing, that watch, and it spent however many years in the pocket of a man I never knew but whose influence I must have felt daily.

I don't carry that watch with me--it's too much of a treasure, really. (A bit of an irony, that, given that a common feature of many of the pairs of overalls I own is a pocket just for pocket watches and a slot for the chain and fob.) It hangs on my desk, ticking away the hours, a comforting presence as I write. My mother picked up a neat stand for it on one of her trips to Europe (Florence, Italy, this time), and there it rests. Funny thing, time--a device used to measure it marks it in more ways than just its comforting ticking.

Nice to meet you, Grandpa.

I also received this wonderful stand from which to hang my grandfather's watch. I look forward to many years of this watch marking the time as I write stories! #christmas #pocketwatch

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Something for Thursday

Another week, another song in the challenge! This week it's A Song That Makes You Want To Dance, and while I almost went with Donna Summer and "Last Dance", I'll go instead with the always-wonderful Sam Cooke. We're "Twistin' the Night Away"!

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Last night we finally watched this year's New Years From Vienna concert, a new year tradition of mine that dates back to high school when I discovered this wonderful annual program on PBS. We used to watch it on New Years Night, but now we wait a day or two until it becomes available for streaming on the PBS website and then watch it in the comfort of our own bed, usually with an open bottle of something sparkling. (This year it was hard cider, but sparkling is a must.)

Vienna's New Years concert always features the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing works by the Strauss family, with occasional pieces by other contemporary composers of light music. The telecast always features brief looks at Viennese history and art and architecture, and each year at least two or three of the performed works accompany a performance by dancers from the Vienna Ballet. If you've never seen it, I can't recommend it highly enough: it's always a bit of music effervescence to bring in the New Year.

This piece, the overture to Johann Strauss's operetta The Gypsy Baron, opened this year's program. Now, this performance is actually from the 1992 concert, hence the more dated appearance. Today's VPO is noticeably younger and also less male than the VPO of yore, but this music still runs through the blood of Vienna. Here, from 1992, is The Gypsy Baron overture. (Note, also, conductor Carlos Kleiber's somewhat wild range of movement!)

Monday, January 07, 2019

On books, and joy, and hoarding, and having too many books, and what to do with the too many books you have, and....

I recently decided to re-read a book that I first read back in 1995 when it first came out, a wonderful volume by journalist Nicholas Basbanes called A Gentle Madness. Subtitled Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, Basbanes traces the long and often delightfully anecdotal history of book collecting and book collectors themselves, from early collectors to those of today (well, those of twenty-some years ago). Such collectors are often odd people driven by specific desires, some are shady characters indeed (witness the case of one Haven O'More), and some are outright criminals (witness the case of Stephen Blumberg, one of history's greatest book thieves, and whose 1990 arrest in Ottumwa, Iowa, had a bit of local interest to me given that I was in college in that same state at the time).

My Goodreads review of Basbanes's book is here, but a bit of coincidental happenstance led to my finishing my re-read of A Gentle Madness during a weekend during which there was quite a bit of online controversy regarding the advice of a "decluttering" guru named Marie Kondo, who apparently counseled people to get rid of books that didn't "bring them joy". (I'm not sure if this came out via a Netflix series Kondo is hosting, or an article, or what. I didn't pay that much attention to the particulars.) Here's an article that argues the counterpoint to Kondo's advice:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

Now, I don't particularly have a dog in this fight one way or the other. If you love books and want to own a bunch of them? Go for it! If you want to be a collector, focusing on some particular subset of literary production? Go for it! And the whole thing about books "bringing you joy" is...well, it's pretty amorphous advice, so far as I can tell. There are a lot of things that bring me joy, and there are a lot of ways that books bring it to me. Some by their content alone; some by the style of the content.

I have copies of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in at least three compilations that I know of, so why did I buy the copy that comes in a single slim hardcover? Because it's pretty. It's a nicely-produced volume with copies of engravings by Gustav Dore accompanying the poem's text. I have four copies of The Lord of the Rings for similar reasons, and five or six complete Shakespeare's. (I could swap all those for a First Folio, of course--any takers?)

My own approach to the gathering of books (I wouldn't say "collecting") is that I want my books to comprise a working library. There's not a book in my Scriptorium (yes, I'm trying that word on for size, deal with it) that I don't want to read someday, even if I may or may not have a reasonable shot at actually getting there. Some I have because they're prettier than other books, but I can see myself sitting down to read each and every one of them. Do I weed it out? Yes, occasionally. Maybe not as often as I ought to. But the books all bring me joy in one way or another. There are different kinds of joy, after all, and different ways things can make us happy.

One rule I have--and this I share with one of my favorite bibliophiles, Sheila O'Malley--is that aside from what I'm currently reading and have set aside on the bedstand when my eyes can no longer remain open, there are no books in my bedroom. None. (Well, none of mine--The Wife has a bookcase in there, and that's on her.) As Sheila wrote, “I don’t want any books in my bedroom. My bedroom is for sleep and moisturizing and loving. I’m sick of sleeping surrounded by 5,000 books.” Hear, hear.

I'm reminded of Roger Ebert's words about his own personal library:

Chaz [Ebert's wife] and I have lived for twenty years in a commodious Chicago town house. This house is not empty. Chaz and I have added, I dunno, maybe three or four thousand books, untold numbers of movies and albums, lots of art, rows of photographs, rooms full of comfortable furniture, a Buddha from Thailand, exercise equipment, carved elephants from India, African chairs and statues, and who knows what else. Of course I cannot do without a single one of these possessions, including more or less every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn. I still have all the Penrod books, and every time I look at them, I'm reminded of Tarkington's inventory of Penrod's pants pockets. After reading it a third time, as a boy, I jammed my pockets with a pocketknife, a Yo-Yo, marbles, a compass, a stapler, an oddly-shaped rock, a hardball, a ball of rubber bands, and three jawbreakers. These, in an ostensible search for a nickel, I emptied out on the counter of Henry Rusk's grocery, so that Harry Rusk could see that I was a Real Boy.

My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs, and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may need to read Finnegans Wake, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill's history of the Second World War, the complete Tintin in French, forty-seven novels by Simenon, and By Love Possessed. That 1957 bestseller by James Gould Cozzens was eviscerated in a famous essay by Dwight Macdonald, who read through that year's list of fiction bestsellers and surface with a scowl. I remember reading the novel late into the night when I was fourteen, stirring restlessly with the desire to be possessed by love.

I cannot throw out these books. Some are enchanted because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word. They're shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most were used, and I remember where I found every one. The set of Kipling at the Book Nook on Green Street in Champaign. The scandalous The English Governess in a shady bookstore on the Left Bank in 1965 (two dollars, today ninety-one). The Shaw plays from Cranford's on Long Street in Cape Twon, where Irving Freeman claimed he had half a million books. Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used bookstore. Other books I can't throw away because, well, they're books, and you can't throw away a book. Not even a cookbook from which we have prepared only a single recipe, for it is a meal preserved, in printed form. The very sight of Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking by Kenneth H.C. Lo quickens my pulse. Its pages are stained by broth, sherry, soy sauce, and chicken fat, and so thoroughly did I master it that I once sought out Ken Lo's Memories of China on Ebury Street in London and laid eyes on the great man himself, dining alone in a little room near the entrance. A book like that, you're not gonna throw away.
Returning to Basbanes's book, I was struck reading it this time by the fact that many of the people he interviewed twenty-five years ago are now dead, and their collections are either long-dispersed or long-bequeathed. The question comes up over and over again: What happens to your books when you die? And the answers change all the time. Some collectors make arrangements for donating specific parts, or the wholes, of their collections. Some are trying, with varying degrees of success. One mentioned was Forrest J. Ackerman, he of the greatest science fiction, fantasy, and horror collection ever assembled; Ackerman wanted his entire collection to be kept whole, but as no major institutions could accommodate the books and the memorabilia, his collection was eventually auctioned off.

That might seem a bit of a tragedy, but many of Basbanes's interviewees specifically intend to auction their collections, either because families have no interest or, as a few note, only by auctioning their collections can they guarantee in some small way that the next generation of collectors will have their chances at anything worthy at all. Collectors paying it forward to collectors: the wheel turns on.

Perhaps the greatest single instance of a collection being bequeathed in its entirety is that of Samuel Pepys, who made detailed arrangements and instructions for the handling of his personal library after his death. Pepys gave the entire collection to Magdalene College in London, with instructions that no books could be sold from or added to the library--and he even included the bookcases that he had had made for his own home. To this day, more than three hundred years after Pepys's death, that library remains intact on the very shelves that once graced Pepys's own home.

So, what should you do with your books? Do as you will. It's really the only way to go.