Spektral Summer Reading List 2016: Part I

We asked our musician friends and fellow creatives for their BEST recommendations for summer reading, and WOWZERS did they deliver! Wondering what the 1st violinist of the Guarneri Quartet, director of the Pitchfork Festival, and New Yorker Magazine classical critic think you should bring to the beach? Dig in, and call your local bookstore to have them ready the forklift!

Stay tuned for Part II


Arnold Steinhardt (Guarneri Quartet 1st violinist)
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

"I just finished reading My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. It is part of her or his Neapolitan Novels, a series of books that tracks the friendship of two girls through their lives. I said his or her because nobody knows who Elena Ferrante really is. The story takes place in Naples, Italy in the 1950’s. Warning: the dazzling writing and the heart stopping action is addicting. I’ve just started the second novel, The Story of a New Name."

Mike Reed (Drummer, Composer, Pitchfork Festival Founding Director)
Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records by Nadine Cohodas

"I’m hoping to finish the book Spinning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records. I’m always trying to find the deeper histories of Chicago and it’s translation into the music communities that were created here. Since the city is one built on segregation it also helps to show the connectivity that people don’t see or have forgotten."

Alex Ross (Writer, New Yorker Classical Music Critic)
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien

"I strongly recommend Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs, a lean, lyrical, hugely haunting novel based on the twisted life of Radovan Karadžić, the Bosnian Serb politician who disguised himself as a doctor of alternative medicine after being charged with war crimes. Here the Karadžić character ends up in a little village in Ireland: at the outset, the story has overtones of a spooky Irish folk-tale, before morphing into a cry of empathy for the plight of refugees."

David Lang (Composer)
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

"I have really gotten hooked on the 6 volume set of memoirs by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Titled, un-subtly, My Struggle, they are perplexingly boring and microscopically navel gazing, examining the smallest details of his completely ordinary life. I find them irresistible. The translations are coming out, one volume per year. Volume 5 just appeared in English this past Spring, so I will have to wait until next year to see how his life turns out. I can't wait."

Sky Macklay (Composer)
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Half of a Yellow Sun is a rich and gripping story of Nigerian characters from different ethnic groups and social classes whose lives and relationships are uprooted and recalibrated by the Biafran war. In addition to being a great read with powerful themes and characters, I learned a lot about the true historical and political events surrounding the Biafran war."

Nico Muhly (Composer)
Fear and Clothing by Cintra Wilson

"She is the funniest writer I know, and there is nothing that sustains me during travel better than her prose."

Nathalie Joachim (Flutist: Eighth Blackbird, Flutronix)
Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? by Touré

"This summer I'm planning on diving into two books: Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Touré's Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? They both feed two very integral sides of me, and are important for creative projects I have happening next season. The Calvino will tie into creative work I'll be participating in with students from Chicago Academy for the Arts as part of Eighth Blackbird. And the Touré ties into a new Afro-centric evening length work I'm developing with Flutronix, as well as my Haitian Song Project, Fanm d'Haiti, that I'm developing through a virtual artist residency with St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series. So, if anyone's looking for me in the next few months, I will be on a beach or mountain somewhere steeped in postmodernism and magical blackness (...basically my usual state in prettier surroundings)."

Shulamit Ran (Composer)
My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner - A Family Memoir by Meir Shalev
"I am a huge fan of Israeli literature, which I read in Hebrew. There is not one, but numerous great Israeli writers whose writing I love. Fortunately, quite a number are translated into English. Books by A.B. Yehoshua and Meir Shalev are top favorites for me, and Meir Shalev's prose reads especially well in English. Since I can't decide on just one, here are three books, all of fairly recent vintage and in three different genres: A Pigeon and a Boy - A Novel; Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible; and My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner - A Family Memoir (yes, for real, and utterly hilarious). A Pigeon and a Boy is a riveting tale, and truly memorable. My best memory of Beginnings is that I took it with me on a flight, and was immensely grateful that the noise of the plane concealed the fact that I was laughing uncontrollably at times, yet in parts my eyes welled up in tears. And the Vacuum Cleaner story, well, it's a summer must-read. I hope you will give his books a try."

Ben Melsky (Harpist, Ensemble Dal Niente Executive Director)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

"Can't wait to get lost in this one again - it takes me a thousand miles away and back."

Katinka Kleijn (Chicago Symphony Orchestra Cellist)
Trees of Illinois - Field Guide by Stan Tekiela

"After visiting the ancient giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park last summer I somehow became somewhat obsessed with the living beings around us called trees. At a the gift shop of Illinois' Starved Rock National Park I found this wonderful pocket guide with quirky facts, as I plan to analyze every tree at Ravinia Park this summer on my breaks."

Marcos Balter (Composer)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

"I recently re-read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is about an awkward sci-fi geek growing up in a highly dysfunctional Dominican household in New York. I love Díaz's conversational style; the footnotes are particularly fascinating. And, this book is so very moving, yet it never comes across as over-sentimental. I would LOVE to write an opera on it."

Melissa Snoza (Flutist, Fifth House Ensemble Executive Director)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

"Written as a letter from the author to his son, this honest and compelling piece of writing should resonate widely as we confront these issues nationally, locally, and within ourselves. It’s difficult to put into words why this is a must-read - all I can say is that it is."

Collin J. Rae (Photographer, Sono Luminus Records CEO)
Language Behind Bars by Paul Celan

"I find reading to be extremely difficult as I get older. I can read in short poetic spurts. I prefer words (like music) to be odd and abstract, filled with absurd and surreal sounds and ideas…or a complete lack of coherency. I love scribbles and to scribble….and to be scribbled."