What I am reading

    • 2018 – 2021

V. E. Schwab  “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” . Wow. What a story! Enthralling, captivating, different. Once I was 100 pages from the end, I kept reading WAY past midnight because I just couldn’t put the book down until it was finished. It is pretty impossible to fit this novel into one genre: it’s a bit of a mystery but not in a who-done-it way, more in the sense of “mysterious”. It is historical, it is romantic but not sappy, a thriller but not dark (though it certainly has its very dark moments), it is fantasy, it’s a love story, adventure, and, mostly, it is epic.

Konrad Wolff  “Schnabel’s Interpretation of Piano Music” . Not intended to be a how-to manual, it is an account of Konrad Wolff’s observations of his teacher’s teaching. In the preface, Alfred Brendel advises a “willingness to examine Schnabel’s guidelines with a grain of skepticism, instead of misunderstanding them to be dogmatic rules.”

Dan Rather  “What Unites Us” .  Eloquent, captivating, educating – he’s been around for a while and can, from personal experience, compare today’s happenings with those from decades ago. He talks about progress, but also where he still sees room for improvement.

Oliver Sachs  “Gratitude”  .  Four essays, written over the last two years of his life. In these essays, he “faces aging, illness, and death with remarkable grace and clarity”. I find it astounding that he can do that without moralizing, without fake cheerfulness, without “dismissing the frailties of body and mind” that may come with old age.  The essays are honest, and a bit raw at times. I have always loved his eloquence. He has a way with words …

John Pavlovitz  “A Bigger Table”  . Provocative, in the best possible way.

“Einfach Midori” . Autobiographie (Second Edition)  .  I was thrilled to find this book online but astonished that it was not published in English, especially since Midori herself wrote the book in American English (translated by Susanne Van Volxem). An explanation may be found in Kerstin Wartberg’s review of this book: “[…] Anyone permanently working as hard as this and at the highest standard will arouse envy. Midori’s own training at the Juilliard School New York was affected thereby. Regrettably, several passages of this autobiography cast a slight shadow on the otherwise brilliant image of the famous violin professor Dorothy DeLay as well as on the conditions at the Juilliard School of that time. This book (first published in 2004) was until now barred from being published in English, possibly as a result of those conditions. All rights for the book are available, except for the Japanese and English languages.”

I wanted to like this book but I found myself getting depressed at the many many uncountably many bad things that happened to her in her childhood. She neither dwells on them nor is she asking for sympathy, she just lists bad thing after bad thing after hardship (with a few, very few, positive things here and there), and – after a while it gets old.  I am now up to her mid-teenage years, and things seem to improve.

Bunny Guinness  “H.R.H. The Prince of Wales . Highgrove, An English Country Garden”  . This is a constant companion. From the jacket: “This book presents a ‘personal tour’ through each of the seasons, during which HRH The Prince of Wales and Bunny Guinness describe the thinking behind the planting and discuss mistakes, triumphs, and future plans.” The book is divided into twelve chapters for the twelve months, and includes detailed plant listings and more information at the end.  The photographs are stunning, and the text so very informative, it feels like I am sitting down, in that garden, and looking at everything, discovering things I might not have seen without my attention being directed toward them. This is also the book where I learned about comfrey and its use in the kitchen garden.

Michael J. Gelb  “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci”  .  I had heard of this book but never read it. Recently, I came across it watching a movie (“The Italian Job”) where one of the characters is briefly shown reading it, with the cover visible just long enough for me to catch the title. I was intrigued, bought it on Amazon, and am now enjoying it. Lots of information and insight.

Robert M. Edsel  “The Monuments Men”  .  Published ten years ago, made into a movie five years ago, this is a compelling and at times not easy to read story. The extent of Hitler’s intent to destroy – people, monuments, books, paintings, sculptures, anything that didn’t “fit” – is hard to grasp. And while it is a well-known fact that he stole priceless and irreplaceable works of art, stole from museums, from private people, Jews mostly, with the goal to eventually display them in his “Führer Museum” – the number of works of art he stole is mind-boggling. Awaiting completion of the museum, these works of art were hidden, with Hitler’s directive that if he were to be captured or killed, everything was to be destroyed. The “Monuments Men” were in charge of finding these cultural treasures before anything (worse) could happen to them.

David Epstein  “Range”  Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World  .   It is a very slippery slope to generalize / advocate that generalists triumph in a specialized world. People are different. Some have broad interests, others have a very narrow focus, and I want a world where both kinds get to live to their fullest potential, without being told that they are “too focused on – obsessed with – that one thing” or on the other hand “not focused enough on that one thing”.

Valerie Jarrett  “Finding My Voice”  .  I haven’t finished Michelle Obama’s book but was intrigued by this newly published autobiography by one of the names I recognized from Michelle Obama’s story.  There are so many parallels between the two books – strong emphasis on at one point being professionally highly successful but privately, personally, unhappy, unfulfilled, struggling to “find one’s voice” and more – it is hard not to feel like Ms. Jarrett modeled her book awfully much after “Becoming Michelle Obama”.

Michelle Obama  “Becoming”  .  Of course, the way it is presented on the book cover, it reads “Becoming Michelle Obama”.   Absolutely deserving of its popularity!  There is nothing not to love about this book: the story of course, but also the many many personal details that somehow never seem to bog things down, the writing style, and – important to this reader who is sensitive to how things feel under her fingers: the smoothness of the paper.

Simon Winchester  “The Perfectionists – How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World”  .  Reminiscent of Steven Johnson’s research into relevant but forgotten history, and equally enjoyable. He’s not afraid of long sentences: “The technique had an immediate cascade effect very much more profound than those he ever imagined, and of greater long-term importance, I would argue, than the much more famed legacies of his friend and rival Abraham Darby III, who threw up the still-standing great Iron Bridge of Coalbrookdale that attracts tourist millions still today, and is regarded by most modern Britons as the Industrial Revolution’s most potent and recognizable symbol.”

Jane Austen  “Pride and Prejudice”  .  Reading this for the first time ever, I’m struggling a bit with the 200 yr-old writing style, and trying to keep track of all the different characters. I will probably enjoy this more when I read it the second time = when I know who’s who and where the story is going.  –  updated a couple weeks later: once I got the hang of it, learning who’s who, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Alan Walker  “Fryderyk Chopin, A Life and Times”  .  I am enjoying this immensely. The author manages to marry an insane amount of research and a very readable writing style. While the book is organized chronologically, one does not necessarily have to read it from beginning to end. Every time I open the book, even randomly anywhere, I am again pulled into the story, the history, finding it hard to put the book down. (How’s that for an excuse for not practicing? …) At nearly 700 pages, this is an ongoing project …

Agatha Christie  “Murder on the Orient Express”  .  No movie can ever do justice to a book – there is simply not enough time in a movie to cover all the details, to slowly develop a story. I therefore enjoyed reading the book, after having seen the movie. Agatha Christie is a master at presenting the different characters, but I still appreciated an overview of the characters at the beginning of the book, and especially a diagram of the carriage, showing which character was in which compartment – since this is an important part of the story.

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