Sunday, July 19, 2009

Travel Reading: Music, Madness, and God

I just came home from a week of travel and mostly the vacation part of the trip was in books. I recommend the following:

The Soloist by Steve Lopez
This is a powerful encounter by journalist Steve Lopez with homeless schizophrenic and Juilliard trained bass player Nathaniel Ayers. Lopez first sees Ayers on a corner in Los Angeles playing a two stringed violin. Lopez goes beyond journalism to friendship, using his newspaper column to campaign for better services for homeless people in general and for Mr. Ayers in particular. It's a bumpy road, and a fascinating read.

It's also a movie—I don't know if it does the book justice, but the website is promising. The movie tagline is "No one changes anything by playing it safe." The soundtrack to the movie by Dario Marianelli is Beethoven inspired and at least the snippets I found on iTunes are lovely and moving. Music and madness come together and come apart.
As I leave his apartment one day shortly after he moved in, he calls me back and holds out his hand. It's a long, firm handshake, followed by a smile. I look into his eyes and see the man he's always been behind the racing, spinning madness. The son who lost a father. The musician who lost a chance. No, we don't have too many so-called normal conversations. But what's normal? I hold his hand in mine, and neither of us needs to say a thing.
By Heresies Distressed by David Weber
This is the third in this series by Weber, just released in hardcover. Teaser available from Baen Publishing. If you like thoughtful examinations of the consequences of the combination of religion and power, read this whole series, starting with Off Armageddon Reef, continuing with By Schism Rent Asunder. Can religious fundamentalism keep humanity safe? Can one person change the course of a world's history? Can creativity and innovation be controlled by religious hierarchy? Can religion not be corrupted by power? The quest for power is assuredly one road to madness, and Weber offers several portraits of those who succumb to power's madness vs. those who do not. If you liked Sharon Shinn's Archangel series, you'll like this series by David Weber too. If you haven't read Shinn's series, read it as well!

Song of the Beast by Carol Berg
"How much is required of a man chosen by a god?" One man hears the gods through music, and must be silenced by those in power, because what the gods want is to be set free. After seventeen years of torture, including seven years of silence, the protagonist leaves his prison to find out what his crime was. This book was a find in a small town Colorado library, by a Colorado author.

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
This is a love story, about the passion, madness and disappointments in love and music. Beautifully written. Here's the final paragraph:
Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music – not too much, or the soul could not sustain it – from time to time.
The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell
This Swedish crime novel is a true psychological thriller—not much in the way of music or God, but much of madness.

I was going to read Speaking of Faith by Krista Tippett on the flight home, but instead my daughter finished reading and laughing, then handed me Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, required summer reading as she enters high school. This is a story of how one high school freshman keeps his sanity by maintaining his sense of humor. As we returned from the annual pilgrimage to the town where I went to high school—a place that is no longer my home, I think I might be able to add to narrator Scott Hudson's list of
Things That Happen So Far Apart That you Forget How Bad They Are:
School dances
Dentist appointments
Hernia tests
Award shows
Chicken goulash in the cafeteria
My additions:
Middle seats on airplanes
Airport security lines
Continental breakfast in most motels
Conversational attempts with some relatives

Nonetheless, my reading and travels reminded me that music can be glorious, madness is relative, God is evident in all creation, and most people in the western United States tend to be 1) more friendly than most easterners, and 2) more afraid of coming east than easterners are of going west.

This afternoon I went to a memorial service for the beloved husband of a long-time colleague. He loved to read and was quite a joyful and special person. This poem by Emily Dickinson was printed on the memorial service program leaflet. It seems an appropriate cap for my week's worth of reading.

He ate and drank the precious Words—
His spirit grew robust—
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust –

He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book—What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings -

Back to work tomorrow, preaching this coming Sunday—we'll see how the books and travel will loosen my spirit and inform the week ahead.

1 comment:

  1. PB wrote: tried to add as comment, but AOL would not allow, something to do with the cookies

    Here is what I would have said.

    great reviews Nancy, you should submit for a living. I added most to my wish list. Missed not reading your blog; you should take less vacation especially if all you are going to do is revisit childhood memories.