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December 05, 2010

Sunday Book Thread

As the year winds down, I'm trying to finish several reading "projects" that I've had going for awhile.

I'm still climbing the north face of Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music. I bought these books to fill a gap in my musical education, but it's a huge time commitment -- it'll probably be several months before I finish them all. The good news is that Taruskin's writing, while academic, is not dry. It makes reading these long books less of a chore than it might otherwise be.

I'm also finishing up Ralph Stanley's autobiography Man of Constant Sorrow. I'm not normally much of a fan of biography, but I made an exception in this case. I've long been a fan of the Stanley Brothers (Ralph's later solo works not so much), and I've always been fascinated by the American musical scene in the post-World War II years. That's when music stopped being a largely regional phenomenon and began being a true nationwide "popular culture" phenomenon due to radio. (Well, actually, that occurred during the 1930's, but really took off in the postwar years.) Stanley's book is interesting as a portrait of a hard-working road-band of that era -- people tend to forget that the Stanley Brothers were never as popular as Flatt and Scruggs or Reno and Smiley or Jimmy Martin or other bluegrass bands of the period. They barely made a wage most of the time, and Carter Stanley (the best lead singer in country music history, in my opinion) died before he saw any real success. Ralph Stanley wouldn't know real stardom, in fact, until O Brother, Where Art Thou? came out in 2000 -- when he was seventy years old. The ghost of Carter Stanley hangs heavy over the later chapters; you can tell that Ralph still misses his brother terribly, even all these years later.

And finally, I recently re-read a few Faulkner novels: Intruder in the Dust, Absalom! Absalom!, and The Sound and the Fury. I find that Faulkner's books improve on me as I get older; where I once found them portentious and rather over-wrought, I now like their rather rather gothic tone.

I will probably pick up George W. Bush's Decision Points sometime in the new year and give it a read. Normally I don't bother with Presidential memoirs -- they're usually self-serving and hagiographic, and never tell you what you really want to know -- but I sort of feel obligated to read this one. I'll probably buy a copy for my Kindle; this isn't the kind of book I'll read more than once.

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posted by Monty at 09:29 AM

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