Monday, December 26, 2011

Literary and Musical Highlights from this Christmas

When I was a kid, there was one present that was sure to please me, regardless of size or cost: Legos. If you wanted to be sure the gift would be loved, that was the easiest way. The other sure-fire gift was that of books. While not all books would be equally loved, it was not hard to find me a book I would like. Aunt Patty, I still remember Watership Down – I even wore out the original copy.

Now that I am mostly grown up, my kids get the legos (don’t ask who plays with them), but I still get the books. Music can also be a good gift, now that Amazon wish lists are available to determine which titles are not already part of my collection. (That’s the hazard of buying music for a musician.)

This Christmas demonstrated that my family knows me pretty well. A few new additions that I am particularly excited about this year:

[Note: this post has been updated with links to my reviews of these books.]

  1. Gitanjali (Offerings of Song) by Rabindranath Tagore
 Technically, this is a birthday present, not a Christmas present. It just took my brother until Christmas to remember to bring it. This is Tagore’s most famous collection of poems, the one best known to the Western world. He became the first non-European author to receive the Nobel Prize in literature as a result. The book itself is a gorgeous small hardback, illustrated with paintings by Mark W. McGinnis. I’m really eager to read this, but it is one of those books that are fun even to hold.

  1. Inferno by Dante, translated by Robert Pinsky
 My beloved wife knew I had been lusting after this book. I already have two versions of the complete Divine Comedy, each of which is completely different and interesting in its own way. I am already a huge fan of Pinsky both for his own poetry and his ongoing efforts to bring the discussion and love of poetry to a wider audience. When I read a small sample of this translation, I was hooked. If the small taste is an indication of the whole, this will be an exciting adventure.

  1. How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish

I already have Strunk & White (if I have to explain, you probably wouldn’t care anyway), and a host of other books on writing and style. Grammar snobs across the literary world have lauded this book. Thus, it belongs on my shelf.

  1. England Under the Stuarts by G. M. Trevelyan
 This book is one in the History of England series by Trevelyan. My wife, who knows library sales like none other, found this used (but probably unread) Folio Society hardback for next to nothing. Another beautiful book just begging to be savored late at night with a glass of claret or port. Although, since the Stuarts were from Scotland, perhaps a fine scotch would fit better.

  1. Lux Æterna by Morten Lauridsen
 This one is music, not reading. Lauridsen is a modern, but not modernist, composer. Lux Æterna is a choral work, almost, but not exactly, a requiem. I hope some day to write a longer blog post on requiems. They fascinate and speak to me in a powerful way, which I would love to explore in words. This CD also contains Les Chansons des Roses, Ave Maria, and Mid-Winter Songs. I am not familiar with these works. Something new to go with something beloved. Thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband for this one.

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