What I am reading

2018 – 2019

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”.

From the first time I sat down at one, I loved the piano, and classical music, and it’s been my focus ever since. My sister on the other hand lost interest in piano, and then guitar, fairly soon after starting and was chastised for not sticking with one thing. If she had been allowed to try every single instrument she wanted, “dabble” for a while and then move on to the next one, she would have developed a wonderfully broad knowledge, might have made a great music critic perhaps. As it was, she was made to feel bad for her lack of stick-to-it-ness AND she was forced to miss out on broadening her education.

So, I am all for allowing people to dabble until they find an area where they want to excel.  – However, according to Mr. Epstein, *I* am not a generalist – I focused too early too narrowly on one thing – so I guess I will have to miss out on the triumph (“Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”).

In my teaching I emphasize efficient practicing techniques with a narrow focus on results: if you haven’t made progress after a reasonably short amount of time then you need to change your strategy, but I also have a poster I created that says that my studio is a place “… where we doodle, dawdle, daydream”. I encourage my students to try different things, to experiment, to go to extremes in order to find the middle (range). – I guess I do combine specialization – how to play a specific piece – with generalization – develop the skills to play the piece, skills which are transferable and will make learning the next piece easier.

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.

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.