Sunday Sum-Up: February 19, 2023

Instead of going to a Super Bowl party last Sunday, I headed downtown to see a documentary at the indie theater. I’d seen a trailer for Lizzie Gottlieb’s film Turn Every Page, which is about the longtime professional relationship and friendship between her father, renowned editor Robert Gottlieb, and political writer Robert Caro, who has written such books as The Power Broker and what will hopefully be a five-volume biography of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. From that description, I’m sure it sounds like a terribly boring documentary but I thought it was fantastic. Lizzie Gottlieb covers both Bob Gottlieb and Caro’s lives and careers separate from each other, their working relationship, and the subjects of Caro’s books. Really, the only thing I have to complain about is a bit of the cinematography. There were a few strange cuts and a minute or two here or there where the camera operator really needed a gimbal to keep the camera steady

In other news, I somehow managed to have a snow day. A snowstorm had been in the forecast, but they were only predicting that we would get about four inches- not a big deal around here. But when the storm rolled in around 3:00 AM (later than predicted), we ended up with about nine inches by 8:00 AM, and it just kept snowing. It’s not that the city can’t handle that much snow, but it hit at a bad time of day and the plows couldn’t get out and clear the main roads by the time schools and businesses were set to open, so most places closed and the city told people to stay home if they didn’t need to be out. I had to go unbury my car that evening, but at least I had an extra day to get a bunch of stuff done at home. The next morning, the roads were clear and it was back to business as usual.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

Mina has been particularly cute this week, even though she’s been waking me up very early in the morning. One day, around 3:00AM a car with a flat tire drove by making an awful racket, which woke us both and scared her. I went from being soundly asleep to dealing with a panicked cat who wanted nothing more than to hide in the nearest cozy place.

Most of her shenanigans, though, have taken place around 6:00AM. Cats are crepuscular creatures, meaning that they tend to be most active at dusk and dawn. Mina is no exception to this, and she has discovered that playing with my phone’s charging cord is a lot of fun. Fortunately, she just bats at it and makes a lot of noise. She doesn’t bite it. I don’t mind (much) that she plays with the cord, but I wish she would play a little bit later in the day. I miss that last full hour of sleep.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

I’d been meaning to read some more poetry, so I downloaded a copy of Langstone Hughes’s collection, The Weary Blues, from the library. I picked this one because it included the poems ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers‘ and ‘I, Too’, which are both poems that I love. You can practically hear the jazz rhythms in Hughes’s writing in these poems. It makes me want to seek out recordings of them to really get a sense of the music in the language. I highly recommend this book, and if you don’t have time for a 90-page book of poetry, then at least check out the two I’ve linked above.

The Rest is Noise is a history of twentieth-century classical music, and it is quite the tome. Ross goes into sometimes exhausting detail (I don’t think he really needed to include an extended synopsis of Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes) in his discussions of the musical theory of various works, but if you’re prepared for the technical details of what makes up music, then The Rest is Noise is an incredibly informative look at some of the most influential composers of the last century, and provides an explanation as to why the genre developed as it did. And it takes a rather unflinching look at classical music of the 1940s in Stalin’s Russia and in Nazi Germany. I did not know that Shostakovich loathed the Soviet regime that forced him to write music a certain way, or that he cleverly satirized the tyrants he was living under (I need to listen to his ‘Leningrad Symphony’ and Bartok’s responding ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ sooner rather than later). I also learned that Aaron Copland was 1) gay, and 2) called before the House Unamerican Committee because his music was “too socialist” for Joseph McCarthy’s taste. I find it endlessly amusing now that Copland’s bright, brassy music is the basis for the themes for those most American of superheroes, Superman and Captain America. So thank to this book, I have a lot more music to listen to now.

Avid Reader is Robert Gottlieb’s autobiography, and I downloaded it from the library because I’d watched the documentary Turn Every Page a few days prior. It was as I expected it to be- primarily about Gottlieb’s decades in the publishing industry, detailing how he got his first job at Simon & Schuster, how he moved on to Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, then ended up as the editor-in-chief for the magazine The New Yorker. It was interesting to hear about his philosophy of editing and what an editor’s true role should be, and what goes on behind the scenes at a publishing house. There was, as I expected knowing who Gottlieb has worked with over the years, a lot of name-dropping. Gottlieb worked with such authors as Ray Bradbury, Nora Ephron, Susan Sontag, Michael Crichton, John le Carré, John Cheever, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie. But it was a lot of name-dropping, and it started to get a bit monotonous after a while. Also, while Gottlieb worked with a lot of women who were highly intelligent and hard-working, it felt like he described them as “beautiful” (all of them, beautiful) first, and intelligent second. That started to rub me the wrong way after about the fourth time, but I suppose Gottlieb is of a different generation. I’m glad I read this book, but I don’t think it will linger in my memory for very long.

What I’m Currently Reading:

Early in the week, I snapped a picture of three fantasy tomes from my unread shelves and asked the people on one of my Discord servers which one of them I should read next because I couldn’t decide. Most of the answers were “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan, and there was one lonely vote for The Obsidian Tower. DNFd Theft of Swords about 75 pages in, as I thought the writing was sloppy and I couldn’t make myself not pause to edit various sentences in my head (they didn’t make sense. What was I supposed to do?). So I went on to the next book that had been mentioned: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso. In this book, Ryxander is a Warden of Gloamingard Castle and the terrible secret that she and her family have guarded for generations: A door that must remain shut and sealed to contain a terrible magic. But an impulsive decision will undo all her family’s work and leave blood on Ryx’s hands. If she can’t find a way to undo what she has done, darkness could fall over the whole world. At this point, Ryx has recently made her bad decision and they’re starting to realize just how dire things could become. I’m enjoying the book so far, though I wish it had a bit more of the gothic atmosphere I’d hoped it would have. I’ve been looking for a good new Goth fantasy, and I haven’t quite found what I’m looking for yet. But The Obsidian Tower still might give me what I’m looking for. We’ll find out.

The Screaming Staircase is the first book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co. series, which is about a team of teenagers who have built a small ghost-hunting business in London. See, fifty years ago for reasons no one understands, the realm of the dead suddenly began intruding on the land of the living, and so people had to learn to live with these hauntings. Some young people (and only young people) have the ability to see or hear the ghosts, and so many of them are trained to deal with the hauntings so people can safely live in their houses or be in buildings without being under a potentially deadly threat from apparitions. I picked this up because of the recent Netflix adaptation of the series, which I quite enjoyed. So far, the book and TV series are very similar so I haven’t been surprised by anything yet, though I’m finding both Lucy and Lockwood to be more personable in the book than they are in the series (though I liked them in the series– I just didn’t find them as immediately appealing in the show as I am in the books). I’m only 12% of the way through, so we’ll see how the rest of the book goes. I think it’s a five-book series, so if I like the first one, it looks like I’ll have several more books to enjoy.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore

I wrote about this Academy Award-winning film score and my love for it in an earlier post, and my opinion hasn’t changed in the two days or so since I wrote it.

Otherwise, I didn’t listen to as much music as I had intended to. I’d intended to listen to Björk’s albums Medulla, Vulnicura, and Fossora, but most of the time I had to listen to things was devoted to Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise because I wanted to finish it last week. So I hope to listen to those three albums next week.

What music I listened to was mostly classical:

  • Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, – A Symphony of Sorrowful songs (1977)
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1 – A Sea Symphony (1910)

The third movement of Gorecki’s Third has been a favorite of mine for a long time, though I was a while before I knew who had written it. I think I heard it on the radio a few times and never caught the composer’s name, so it took a lot of sifting through Spotify a while back to figure out who had written it. And once I found the composer, I never bothered to find out when it was written. I’d thought it was from the 1930s or 40s, so color me surprised when Alex Ross talked about Gorecki being one of the post-modern composers of the 1960s and 70s. The third movement, which features a beautiful soprano voice, feels like it already has immense age to it. Which I suppose isn’t surprising, given that it’s about a mother who has lost her child. I finally listened to the whole symphony this week, and it is as beautiful and sorrowful as its name suggests. This is one I will revisit in the future.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ has been one of my favorite pieces of music period for a long time- since I was about fifteen. But beyond that and his ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ and ‘The Lark Ascending’, I haven’t delved into too many of his other works. I looked Vaughan Williams up on Wikipedia to double-check some facts about him and ended up reading the section about his symphonies, only one of which I’ve ever listened to at all- his Sinfonia Antartica, which is technically his seventh symphony, though it’s apparently not called that. I decided I should give his other symphonies a chance (and relisten to the seventh) so I found them all on Spotify and listened to the first, which is dubbed ‘A Sea Symphony’. It was Vaughan Williams’ first major work, and the lyrics were taken from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Apparently, Whitman wasn’t well-known in England at the time, but Vaughan Williams got the book from his friend, Bertrand Rusell, and was inspired by it. The lyrics sung by the soprano and baritone singers come from various poems in Leaves of Grass and are (surprise!) about the sea and sailing. Though it sounds more traditionally classical than the other works by Vaughan Williams I’ve listened to, critics say that A Sea Symphony helped to firmly ground English music in the twentieth century, and aided the revival of the English symphony. Who knew? I sure didn’t. I also didn’t know that Vaughan Williams’ ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, so I might have walked right by them without even knowing it.

Next week’s musical plans:

  • Björk: Medulla, Vunicura, and Fossora
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 2 ‘A London Symphony’
  • Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 ‘Leningrad Symphony’
  • Eliot Goldenthal, Frida Original Film Score

9 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: February 19, 2023

  1. Mina looks very analytical in that photo! I wonder what’s on her mind… Someone recently recommended Lockwood (the Netflix version) to me — glad to hear you enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll give it a try. Hope you have a good week!

  2. There was something going on outside, but Mina couldn’t be bothered to actually go over to the window and see what it was…. If there’s a second season of Lockwood & Co, I will definitely watch it. There was a bit in the first or second episode that was kind of slow- lots of exposition and worldbuilding- but once I got past that it was a lot of fun.

  3. I’m going to see Emily this weekend. To be fair, you saw Living, which was amazing! You saw one of the best films I’ve seen this year!

  4. It’s been a long while since I’ve listened to any classical music, even though I have quite a bit. Reading about you listening to more of it has me curious to back through what I have and see how much I still enjoy (or remember).

  5. There are a lot of pieces I used to listen to a lot, but my tastes have changed since I was in college and whatnot, so I’m sure if I looked back at what I listened to all the time back then, I wouldn’t like a lot of it as much now. Tastes change, no matter the genre.

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