The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quintet (Part Two) and Some Other Good Books

By Andrew Tibbetts

I’m not reading as much as I used to do. I still read every night in bed, but I drop off much sooner than in my youth. In fact if I was writing this in bed I’d already be asleep by now. Recently however, four books have pushed through the sleeplust to grab and hold my attention:

Quintet by Douglas Arthur Brown. This book is a communication journal among identical triplets. They each keep it for a season and then pass it along. One lives in the Maritimes, one in Toronto and one in Denmark. One’s gay. One has substance abuse issues. One’s an artist. It’s really a fascinating way to structure a story. They write to each other about their different takes on their parents and strange older brother, and also share the events of their adult lives. The book couldn’t be more ‘character-driven’ and yet, it manages to be a ‘page-turner’. How does he do it? Not sure, but I’m insanely jealous.

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross. This book is a history of twentieth century ‘classical’ music. From Richard Strauss’s innovations to opera through the shock of Stravinksy and Schoenberg into the attempts to reconnect with the pop and jazz world up to today’s most interesting electronic and symphonic composers. I’ve read hundreds of books on this period in music (it’s my favourite) and yet almost all these anecdotes were new to me. Ross’s scholarship is fresh. His opinions are sturdy but unique. His prose is lively. I’ve loved his columns in the New Yorker, and his first full length tome doesn’t disappoint. I’d vote it ‘book-of-the-year’ if there were such a thing and anyone asked me.

Huckleberry Fin by Mark Twain. This classic holds up. Like “A Christmas Carol” though, it’s hard to read something you’ve seen adapted, abridged, parodied, referenced, etc… so often with any kind of innocence. But the humour holds up and the power of the narrative’s drive is unmistakable. Escape. We all want to.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham. This book manages to be a wonderful mix of the two writing styles I’ve been enjoying- lush, lyrical writing that takes it’s time and searches for fresh ways to see things and convey things, and tight, driven prose that gets out of the way of the tale. How can anyone (other than Anne Carson) do both at the same time? Genre suits spiritual writing. This book is comparable to David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” another book that attempts to map the human spirit across time and space and utilizes genre to ground the philosophical insight. This book sets a ghost story in the past, a thriller in the present and a sci-fi adventure in the future, all of New York City. It’s smart and has deep feeling to it. It’s not just a show piece for style and innovation. It’s about humanness. Walt Whitman’s spirit animates the entire piece. His ecstasy and his language are honoured beautifully.


Blogger Jacqueline said...

Wow, you're really eloquent when you talk about books!

I haven't read a novel in a month or so. You have reminded me that I should get back to it.

Thanks for the ideas!

Wed Apr 23, 11:27:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Tania Hershman said...

The Quintet book sounds fascinating. I haven't read a novel in ages, I am all short stories right now, not sure whether I have the attention span, but that sounds so unique, I might just have to find a copy.

Wed Apr 23, 11:42:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Specimen Days appeals to me the way you've described it. By the author of The Hours, right? I loved that.

Book of the year, a book about music? Interesting.

Thu Apr 24, 02:06:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Great reviews, Andrew. The Quintet actually gets two reviews from you. That history looks like a good intro book. Would you recommend it for those of us limited in that area of music history?

Fri Apr 25, 02:15:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Hi, folks thanks for your enthusiasitic responses. I highly recommend "The Rest is Noise" as an intro book- it's not very technical (there won't be graphs of pitch complexes or formulas of algorythms) and more interested in the social and human phenomena of the century and how they are reflected in music. There's a fascinating chunk in the middle about those famous music lovers Hitler and Stalin. (It would be a great gift for Colin, Tricia. And a great intro, Tamara.)

And yes, Speciman Days is by the Hours guy. And it shares some similarities. It's haunted by Walt Whitman instead of Virginia Woolf and everything flows from that distinction.

Fri Apr 25, 10:01:00 am GMT-4  

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