Spektral Summer Reading List 2016: Part II

Welcome to Part II of our Summer Reading List, featuring book recommendations from some of today's brightest artistic minds! You can find Part I here.


Nadia Sirota (yMusic, ACM, Alarm Will Sound Violist, Q2: Meet the Composer Host)
Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

"This book is so fucking great. It’s a sort of rags to riches story about Lilliet Berne, a self-made, secretly American, former prostitute star of the Paris Opera in the late 19th century. All I ever wanna read is like historical fiction and shit about kids trying to make it in showbiz and omigod does this scratch that itch. Plus it’s written good."

Tim Munro (Flutist, Raconteur)
And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer

"A page-turning detective novel where the detectives are musicologists, and the dead body is a newly-discovered (fictional) Bach Cantata, one with an abhorrently anti-Semitic text...need I say more?"

Liz Pearse (Quince Vocal Ensemble Soprano)
Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by
Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton
"Though the heyday of the taste-making radio DJ may have passed, the world of popular music was once shaped by those who controlled the airwaves. Read here about how music recording changed everything."

Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Composer)
Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson

"I have been wanting to read Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists for a while now and I bet it is going to be a very nice summer read!"

Anthony Devroye (Avalon Quartet Violist, Rush Hour Concerts Artistic Director)
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

"With our third boy due literally any hour now, I have no delusions of getting any substantial reading done this summer. One book that has been read regularly in our house over the past five years (and will continue to be for the next five) is Green Eggs and Ham. Kudos to Spektral Quartet for continually pushing listeners to challenge their own biases and try something new - you are kindred spirits of Sam-I-Am."

Amy Iwano (UChicago Presents Executive Director)
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

"I’m reading The Enchantress of Florence, in preparation for UChicago Presents’ February 24 concert in Mandel Hall with the American String Quartet; the group will perform with Rushdie reading passages intertwined with the music of composer Paul Cantelon, who was inspired by the book."

Sam Pluta (Composer)
Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

"This is the first book in a while where when I put it down I realized I had experienced something new. It is a collection of short stories, but the larger arc of the whole was just as profound for me as the twists and turns of each individual tale."

Steve Smith (Writer, Boston Globe Arts Critic)
Into the Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom: Before 1970 by David Toop

"Writing about freely improvised music can be a thankless task: not just because of the discipline's essentially ephemeral nature, but also because even among acknowledged architects of the practice, opinions and philosophies vary wildly as to what constitutes success, whether familiarity is a danger, and whether the music is suited to a permanent record -- in any sense of that term. But David Toop, an English composer, performer, and writer -- and, crucially, a seasoned, respected improviser -- is uniquely qualified to attempt bottling lightning. In the first volume of what's certain to be a landmark study, Toop digs deep into the prehistory of the practice, discussing surrealism, automatic writing, the free music of Percy Grainger, and more as essential precursors to the proliferation of a post-jazz idiom in the 1960s. Where Toop goes from here should be equally fascinating (and likely more contentious), but this volume provides an insightful, sympathetic overview of a misunderstood and marginalized art."

Sibbi Bernhardsson (Pacifica Quartet Violinist)
Dreamland by Andri Snær Magnason

"I will be next reading a somewhat recent Icelandic book called The Dreamland by Andri Snær Magnason. He is a great writer and an active environmentalist. He was also a presidential candidate in the very recent presidential elections and finished 3rd."

Isaac Stevenson (Percussionist, Mocrep)
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

"I'm currently reading Kafka on the Shore - it's a dense, surreal, and deeply symbolic story about crazy rain, an old man who talks to cats, high school runaways, truck drivers, libraries, and old pop records."

Mikel Kuehn (Composer)
Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec

"For those looking to broaden their reading experience and have a fun ride at the same time, I recommend two novels by authors associated with the French experiment literary group Oulipo. The first is Italo Calvino's 1979 classic, If on a winter's night a traveler, the basis of my recent string quartet that was commissioned and premiered this year by Spektral. In a similar vein is a wonderfully labyrinthian novel by one of Calvino's favorite authors and fellow Oulipian, Georges Perec, whose Life: A User's Manual, could be described as a diverse and fascinating group of interrelated short stories organized around a Knight's Tour of a 100-room Parisian apartment building. Sure to hold the interest of those who like variety, it even makes brief mention of Pierre Boulez conducting Wozzeck... using a baton!"

Jonathan Moerschel (Calder Quartet Violist)
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

"With the two kids now, it is awfully hard to find time to read, except when I'm traveling with the quartet. I pretty much love anything that John Irving wrote. A Prayer for Owen Meany is my all-time favorite book. I have Irving's latest novel, Avenue of Mysteries, on my nightstand, with hopes of starting that as soon as I can find a few quiet minutes this summer."

Augusta Read Thomas (Composer, Ear Taxi Festival Founder)
Pedagogical Sketchbook by Paul Klee

Gusty is digging into Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook this summer, and thinks you might consider doing the same!

Bernard Rands (Composer)
Sweet Theft by J.D. McClatchy

Bernard is one of the biggest readers we know, and he recommends you crack open J.D. McClatchy's Sweet Theft this summer!