It’s been a while since I posted an update on books I’ve been reading, so here’s a bit of catch-up!
:: Edge of Sundown is a noir-mystery set in Chicago, by indie writer Jennifer Worrell. A writer who was once a fixture on the bestseller lists for his genre potboilers has spent the better part of a decade in the creative doldrums, until he starts writing what is a marked departure for him: a dystopian thriller in which alien beings are ridding the city streets of “undesirable” elements. But when real-world events start to mirror those in his novel, our hero starts to wonder where the boundary between fiction and reality lies…and that boundary blurs even more when the murders start.
I don’t often read this sort of thing, so I was surprised how compelling it was. There is a palpable sense of dread hanging over the story, even as the climax nears, and Worrell really creates a sense of dark place as she explores Chicago’s seedy underbelly. Highly enjoyable!
:: For my ongoing project of listening to (and writing about) the music of Jean Sibelius, I figured I should bone up on the composer’s life and times. I got a book out of the library, called Finlandia: The Story of Sibelius, by Elliott Arnold. This is an older book, published in 1941 while the composer was still very much alive (and, in fact, Sibelius himself appears to have had input into Arnold’s book). As such, the writing style is very much a throwback, and the tone of the book is one of somewhat relentless praise. If you are looking for a critical study of Sibelius and his music, you won’t find that here. But I just wanted a readable treatment of the composer’s life and times, and this is certainly that. In fact, I found the book valuable for its descriptions of the historical events in Sibelius’s homeland, Finland, a country which wasn’t even an independent nation when Sibelius was born. Sibelius was a highly nationalistic composer (even if he denied ever using actual Finnish folk material in his works), so this book gives a good sense of the events that shaped Sibelius’s attitudes and patriotic fervor.
:: Two rival sea-faring clans try to put their long feud behind them by marrying their two youngest nobles in Daughter of the Deep, a fantasy novel by Lina C. Amarego. The problem is that our heroine, Keira Branwen, is convinced that her new husband, Ronan Mathonwy, is the one who murdered her father. She is expected to push those feelings aside in the name of peace on the seas, but obviously that isn’t about to happen, and Ronan relentlessly insists on his own innocence. There’s no way that peace between the Branwens and the Mathonwys is going to be easily attained by any marriage, and so unfolds a novel full of character and conflict. I enjoyed this one immensely! Daughter of the Deep is the first volume of a duology called The Children of Lyr, and I absolutely intend to read the follow-up. Recommended!
:: For the Love of Music: Invitations to Listening by Michael Steinberg and Larry Rothe is a collection of essays that ran in the magazine of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, along with that magazine’s shorter program notes for specific concerts. As such, the book can be dipped into at will, which I recommend doing. There are chapters on Erich Wolfgang Korngold and on Sergei Rachmaninov and the great Chicago impresario Theodore Thomas, along with many more. The essays are often personal reflections on the part of Steinberg and Rothe, informed by many years of love of and listening to classical music. It’s an excellent collection of recent classical music writing.
:: A sadly necessary book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert looks at the state of science today, in this time of climate change and the threats it poses to the natural world and to human civilization in general. This is not a general look at climate change, but rather an examination of a number of “case studies” in which scientists are working on very specific environmental issues, such as preserving a fish that only lives in tiny pools in caves in the Mojave Desert. In another example, Australian researchers are trying to engineer a coral that can thrive in the hotter oceans to come, hoping to somehow preserve the Great Barrier Reef. She ultimately arrives at the folks who are studying the possibilities of direct geoengineering to combat the ongoing warming of our planet, in such ways as dispersing huge quantities of reflective aeresols into the upper atmosphere, hopefully increasing the planet’s albedo in hopes of putting the brakes on continued absorption of solar heat. Who knows if that will work, but the fact that it’s being more seriously analyzed is itself an indictment of humanity’s utter failure to take any major steps to alleviate the problem. Under a White Sky isn’t an optimistic book, that’s for sure…but oddly, it’s not exactly pessimistic, either. My overwhelming feeling is that we’ll just keep not making things exactly better, but just continuing to make things different and figure out how to live with it down the road.
More reading notes to come!