There are times when I concentrate on a single book, but this is one of those moments when my attention is divided among several items:
North of Hope – Jon Hassler. I’ve just started this big novel of ordinary people in small-town Minnesota and I am already caught by it. Quietly funny, wonderfully observant.
Zen Catholicism – Dom Aelred Graham. Thomas Merton makes mention of this book in a journal entry. It’s a bit dense and dry, and some of it is over my head, having never studied Aquinas. But it addresses some fundamental issues in the light of the insights Zen has to offer. Thoughtful, nourishing reading.
The Creative Habit: Use it and Learn it for Life – Twyla Tharp. There is a sub-genre of how-to book that talks about how to be an artist; examples include Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland; and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It sounds like a horrible idea – like the famous answer to the question “what is swing?”, if you have to ask how to be an artist, you’ll never know – but all these books do have something to offer, and I find myself quoting from them to my students and taking some of their insights to heart. The Tharp book is crisp, direct, and forceful in tone, with exercises at the end of each chapter that spring from Tharp’s own experiences.
Conducting Business – Leonard Slatkin. – When I circulated my orchestral song cycle From a Book of Hours (excerpts here – scroll down) to a great many orchestras a number of years ago, Leonard Slatkin was one of only two maestros to take the time to write a letter in return. Known as a terrifically important champion of American music, Slatkin offers a mix of memoir, advice to aspiring conductors, and commentary on the orchestral scene. There is a brief section dealing with how various conductors have re-scored Beethoven that is hair-raising for those of us who were not aware of how common this kind of thing is.