I recently realized that my current reading is a very weird mix. I’ll describe the books I’m reading in order–from the sublime to the ridiculous, literally.
The most ponderous is a 700+ page biography called Mozart: The Reign of Love by Jan Swafford, a musician and composer who’s also written biographies of Beethoven and Brahms. A few weeks ago we saw Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus at Severance Hall, with the stunning soundtrack provided by the Cleveland Orchestra. Realizing that the film was fictionalized–poor Salieri, a contemporary composer did not actually murder Mozart–I wondered about Mozart’s childlike (not to say sophomoric) sense of fun, as well as the real story behind his father’s exploitation of his talent.
After a couple of weeks, I’m only about 250 pages in. Mozart in real life was even sillier and more scatological than Tom Hulce’s movie performance. Now and then I take a YouTube break to listen to whatever Mozart piece Swafford is describing. As you no doubt know, there’s a lot to listen to. Though Mozart died at age 35, he began composing music when he was five years old, and he could turn out a symphony in an afternoon. He and his music deserve all 750 pages.
In contrast to sunny Mozart, Edouard Leve’s novel Suicide is also in my current reading rotation. At only a little over 100 pages long, it’s also a contrast to Swafford’s tome. Leve, an author and photographer, born in 1965, committed suicide about ten days after he submitted the Suicide manuscript to his publisher in 2007. As you can imagine, a novelistic suicide note, essentially, appeals to readers’ morbid interest.
But I didn’t know this background when I requested the book. My book group was recently discussing Julie Otsuka’s novel The Swimmers, whose last chapter is written in second person; that is, it’s addressed to a you, ostensibly the daughter of the earlier chapters’ main character, an older woman with dementia. This narrative choice is very unusual. It happens that one of my favorite books, Winter Birds (1994) by Jim Grimsley, also has a second-person narration, where it represents the adult narrator addressing himself as a young boy. When I looked up second person narrators, I found Suicide, and that’s how it made it to my bookshelf. Suicide is as somber as you might imagine, well observed and powerful, but not exactly entertaining.
For occasional relief, I pick up Tears of the Giraffe, the second in a mystery series by Alexander McCall Smith. I recently enjoyed the first installment, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. recommended by a YouTube influencer. These popular books feature a wise and charming Botswanan sleuth named Precious Ramotswe. Smith’s series runs to 23 volumes, which might become a more ambitious reading project even than Mozart.
On an even lighter note, I’m also reading Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of “Airplane” by the movie’s goofball creators Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker, a recommendation from our friend Tim. I was attracted by the David Letterman quote on the back cover praising the movie and the prevalence of Letterman quotes inside as well. I like David Letterman. It seems Dave auditioned for the movie and didn’t get a part, which he, like the filmmakers, finds very amusing. Dave kept telling them, “I can’t act. I can’t act. I can’t act.” After his audition, they told him, “You’re right. You can’t act.” Dave says, “I was right, and we all ended up parting as friends. So it was a good time.”
An eclectic mix, to be sure. I usually don’t read four books at a time, but I’m liking them all.