Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fadmian's Ex Libris: Cure for a Funk

Maybe Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader has saved this blog. It took this charming collection of eighteen essays about books to pull me out of a slump and prod me to post again. Again proving myself to be far removed from the cutting edge of the literary world, I comment on a work that has been available since 1998.

Every educated person has a relationship with books. Apart from the content of the writings, we have relationships with books, the physical vessels of the knowledge we absorb. Fadiman explores her bibliophilia in a collection of taut and varied essays that constantly reminds us that our connection with books reflects our connection with the world. She moves from toddlers’ using books as teething objects to the troublesome ground of marital library mergers; from the use of books as children’s building blocks to the dispersal of our libraries on death.

The work is impeccable on every level. It coheres beautifully as a collection of essays. The writing is always original, deft, and cocksure—something one expects from a writer whose father was Clifton Fadiman. Her anecdotes are interesting. The individual subjects of the essays are well chosen.

Humor abounds. I had to laugh when I picked the book up off my bedstand—it was splayed face down—and started to read the essay Never Do that to a Book, which started with an anecdote about her brother leaving a volume facedown on a table and having the maid insert a note that said: “SIR, YOU MUST NEVER DO THAT TO A BOOK.” Her subsequent exegesis of our physical relationship with books—including the likes of mutilation by cover removal, marginalia, and kitchen spatterings on cookbooks—is enchanting.

In reading the book I was reminded of some of my own odd book habits: listing the words I don't know on the back flyleaf; excessive annotation and injudicious underlining; and my Dickens-induced habit of computing how long a book is by counting individual letters (based on the formula: pages x times lines per page x times letters per line).

Her essay on sonnets I found particularly reassuring. She gives Willam Kunstler a pass for writing bad sonnets, confesses to writing bad sonnets herself, and otherwise absolves all of us who have ever committed the sin of writing bad sonnets.

This book is a joy.

Ten Recommended Classical Recordings: A Sampler for Those New to the Classical Scene

The following is a list of classical recordings that offer a variety of classical genres: opera, symphonies, keyboard, violin concerto, solo cello, piano concerto, and oratorio. Though it is mostly mainstream with respect to the represented composers, it reflects a variety of interesting sounds.

Because the list is intended for someone who is starting to explore classical music many of the recordings are now budget issues. If you have thoughts on the list or would like to pipe in with your own, please do!

1. Mozart: The Magic Flute; Sir Colin Davis, conductor, Staatskapelle Dresden, orchestra; Rundfunkchor Leipzig, choir; Moll, Schreier, Price, Serra, Melbye, Venuti; Philips Duo, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 1994.

2. Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1975 and 1976, released on CD in 1996.

3. Bach: Keyboard Pieces, Toccata, BWV 911; Partita BWV 826; English Suite No. 2, BWV 807; Argerich; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1980, released on CD in 2000.

4. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D; Brahms: Violin Concerto in D; Jascha Heifetz; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; RCA, recorded in 1957, released on SACD in 2005.

5. Panorama—Edvard Grieg, two discs of various piano and orchestral works; Deutsche Grammophon Panorama, recorded on various dates, released on CD in 2000.

6. Bach: Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello; Yo-Yo Ma; Sony, recorded in 1983, released on CD in 1990.

7. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos, Vol. I—Brendel; Sir Neville Mariner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Philips Duo, recorded in 1972-82, released on CD in 1994.

8. Handel: The Messiah; Sir Colin Davis, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Philips Duo, recorded in 1966, released on CD in 1994.

9. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Martha Argerich, Philips, recorded 1982 and 1980, released on CD in 1995.

10. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4 (separate disc one); and Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 5-6 and Orchestral Suite No. 1 (separate disc two), Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; EMI, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 2004.