Summer Reading 2: The Talk of the Town; Updike on Art

9780375756498_p0_v1_s260x420The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town, edited by Lillian Ross. What musician can resist a book where one of the items included begins:

“We were fortunate enough to be seated a few rows behind Rachmaninoff the other night in the Plaza ballroom when Theremin, the young Russian scientist, produced strange sounds, then tunes, and finally played Scriabin and Saint-Saëns by waving his hands gently at antennae on a box.”

This anthology of short pieces from The New Yorker is delightful reading, with stories by James Thurber (responsible for the report on Theremin), E.B. White, A.J. Liebling, Brendan Gill, John Updike, Ian Frazier, Veronica Geng, Susan Orlean, Garrison Keillor, Steve Martin, and even one from Jacqueline Onassis.

Unknown-2Always Looking: Essays on Art by John Updike. This is a posthumously issued collection of reviews of museum shows, mostly originally published in The New York Review of Books or The New Republic. There are plenty of handsome reproductions, though the book is not the size of a coffee table tome; perhaps it’s something for an end table. The tone is that of a well-informed amateur who just happens to write as elegantly as John Updike. Artists discussed include Church, Monet, Miró, Degas, Klimt, Beckman, Magritte, Lichtenstein and Serra and more. The 20th century and contemporary artists are dealt with sympathetically, making me wonder what it would mean for music created during the same periods if a writer of Updike’s stature took an interest in it, and acted on that interest in print. Art didn’t need Updike – there is money in art – but music could have used him.

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