Monday, December 31, 2018

2019: The Year in Music

As one of my favorite year-end rituals, I  transfer my list of books completed from my kitchen calendar to my Book-Woman journal, which I began in 1997. At some point in January, I share the entire list here as well. For now, though, I've enjoyed looking for patterns.

Occasionally, I'll find a book that left absolutely no impression on me at all. Others invite me to re-read. Even though I consider myself a fiction reader first and foremost, I find some other common threads.

My love of music is no secret to anyone who knows me. In 2018, I enjoyed my share of festivals, concerts, and conferences. Friends I met at the SPBGMA conference in February became lifelong friends and introduced me to a number of singers, songwriters, and authors.

I finished this year with a couple of books that expanded my playlist. Back in October, I met Terry Wait Klefstad from Belmont's School of Music and Bill Pursell, the subject of her book Crooked River City. Her book describes the crooked path of his life as a professional musician. Classically trained, Pursell ended up as a Nashville session musician much in demand. He has played on such classics as Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." At the same time he was playing piano for other artists who were creating what became the Nashville Sound, he was also playing regularly for the Nashville Symphony and composing for them as well. He rounded out his career as a professor at Belmont, even completing the doctorate degree he abandoned decades before.

In a different vein altogether, John Hartford's Mammoth Collection of Fiddle Tunes, compiled by Matt Combs, Katie Harford Hogue (Hartford's daughter), and Greg Reish. This book would be a treasure even without the rich text that tells the story of this uncommon musician and his pure love of music. Perhaps remembered more--at least by the public--for his dancing banjo style, Hartford had a passion not only for creating his own backlog of fiddle tunes but for collecting those of all the best fiddlers, such as Ed Haley, preserving old-time music for the future.

What will bring readers back again and again to this book is the visually appealing record of Hartford's music taken from his notebooks compiled over years. The editors of the book interviewed so many of his colleagues and bandmates, who described his obsession with 3x5 notes on which he recorded song ideas, observations, and drawings.

Hartford's music fans may be unaware of his background in graphic arts, but his distinctive line drawings throughout the book show another aspect of his creative ability.

Many of the songs Hartford composed went unrecorded. Repeatedly, interviewees commented on his passion for jamming, his open-door policy, welcoming musicians and other Nashville icons or passers-through to his home on the Cumberland River for what often turned into two or three day jams. Reading prompted many a detour to YouTube or to my own music collection, where he often appears on other people's albums.

I can hardly believe it was less than a year ago that I met Barbara Martin Stephens and read her memoir, Don't Give Your Heart to a Rambler, the story of her life with Jimmy Martin, the "King of Bluegrass," which also tells about her experience as the first female booking agent in Nashville.  I especially enjoyed the audiobook, read by the author.

A fictional work with a music theme, Peter McDade's The Weight of Sound, was one of the many excellent books I discovered through Shari Smith's Trio Project. This novel follows the life of a young man who finds his path in music in his teens, and then weaves the story from the perspective of bandmates, family, and friends.  The novel was particularly suited for TRIO, which pairs each book with a graphic artist and a songwriter, who produce works inspired by the book.

Rodney Foster's For You to See the Stars, another TRIO selection, was released as a short story collection and CD of the same name. Foster wrote and recorded a song accompany each story. While the stories and the songs stand alone on their own merits, listening while reading creates the ideal experience.

A look at my to-read stack for 2019 reveals a few other books with musical angles.  My senses can prepare to be stimulated again.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Kate Atkinson: Reading Back Titles

During the days between Christmas and the beginning of the new school year, that time when we lose track of what day it is, I love the luxury of guilt-free reading. I don't have to worry about the holiday shopping or cooking (maybe the cleaning--which never ends); I have my syllabus ready for my spring classes. I can just kick back with a book.

The biggest challenge, though, is deciding which book to read next. I don't follow any kind of logic; I just pick up what seems most appealing. I have several books still unread, but I had picked up a copy of Kate Atkinson's older novel Case Histories at the library's book sale back in October.  I have loved her books I've read--Life after Life (which I read twice) and Gods in Ruins. This one, though recommended by one of my favorite reading friends, had eluded me until now.

Atkinson's books never follow a simple plot line, but she never follows the same path twice. In this novel, she moves between three or four plots lines that seem unrelated: Olivia, the youngest of four girls who disappears from the tent where she and a sister are camping; Jackson Brodie, a recently divorced former policeman who has opened a private investigation office; Vic, an obese man whose favorite daughter Laura was murdered while working temporarily at this office, a newlywed forced to deal with her stepchildren and her judgmental new mother-in-law. Each of the plot lines involves unsolved or unexplained murders.

Brodie becomes the center of all the stories, as he is contacted by two of Olivia's sisters, now middle-aged and finding their sister's Blue Mouse doll after their father's death. They want to know the truth about their sister's disappearance. Vic too wants to find his daughter's killer, only identified by his yellow golf sweater.

In a fashion readers come to expect from Atkinson, details and characters are often not what as first appear. Since she shifts between the perspectives of several characters, readers feel almost like detectives, piecing together missing details as they are revealed. All of the characters have flaws; all hide secrets; all have a certain self-awareness.

Atkinson's writing sets the bar high. Readers may have a harder time settling for simple plots and characterization after inhabiting her narratives. Fortunately, readers don't have to wait for her next publication, since her new novel Transcriptions is one the bookstore shelves now.