Just in the nick of time, it's our SUMMER READING LIST! This year we expanded our reach (including composers, actors, musicians, fans, and board members) and narrowed our entries (let's be honest, last year's was out of control) to ten top-shelf recommenders.
Our request for this list is: "Share one book that you love or that you think others will love, and 2-3 sentences why."
As you'll see, some of these brilliant folks are quite bad at counting. As you'll also see, the current state of affairs in our country has edged out the breezy beach reads for some chewy and thought-provoking editions. Leaked episodes of Game of Thrones has you covered on the escapism front, and our friends are on top of the blown-your-brain-wide-open one.
Thank you to Marcos Balter, Jill DeGroot, Daniel Felsenfeld, Dai Fujikura, William Riley Leitch, Nicholas Photinos, Fred Sherry, James Smith, Alex Temple, and Michael Patrick Thornton for the phenomenal list...and happy reading to all of you!
MARCOS BALTER (composer)
I'm reading Elizabeth Strout's ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, which is a collection of short stories. I really like how she sees beauty in the mundane. Bonus: if you've read her MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, one of the short stories in this book involves a school janitor who gives some new insights on the dysfunctional Bartons.
JILL DEGROOT (Noise Bias founder / Cacophony Magazine editor / flutist)
I would like to recommend LIVING A FEMINIST LIFE by Sara Ahmed. In it, Ahmed states "Feminism is homework." Addressing the ways in which we distance ourselves from the society we critique, this visionary take on feminist theory serves as an illuminating, and often painful, look in the mirror. Using feminist of color scholarship as the foundation, Sara Ahmed brilliantly offers solutions that can help up rise to the challenge of living a feminist life.
DANIEL FELSENFELD (composer)
This summer, like many, I have been trying to understand the (at best) fractious nature of our country. So my reading has been accordingly scaled.
Howard Jacobson’s PUSSY: A fantasia on our POTUS, but cast as if written by a British contemporary Italo Calvino. Peculiar, and terrifying. And funny.
Woodward and Bernstein’s THE FINAL DAYS and Elizabeth Drew’s WASHINGTON JOURNAL: In a way reading about Watergate is giving me a ray of hope. Both of these books detail how that quaintly corrupt (by comparison) administration toppled in on itself. It beats reading Victor Klemperer’s AND I SHALL NOW BEAR WITNESS (which is relevant and chilling and brilliant), because at least Nixon had the good sense not to murder a massive chunk of the population due to father issues. Also Mad Magazine’s MAD ABOUT TRUMP brings the funny, if any of this were actually funny.
Wilhelm Reich’s THE MASS PSYCHOLOGY OF FASCISM is a must-read if you are at all curious how all of this works—as necessary (and far weirder) than Hannah Arendt’s THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM. Both outline grand trends that allow a nation to no longer be sovereign.
Jane Meyer’s DARK MONEY, Jaques Barzun’s THE CULTURE WE DESERVE, and Richard Hofstadter’s THE PARANOID STYLE IN AMERICAN POLITICS trace the lineage—the long and deliberate lineage—of all that is coming down our international pike, laying out how surprisingly un-sudden any of this is.
But most deliberately, I am currently midway through two very important pieces of literature: William Gaddis’ JR and Gore Vidal’s seven-volume NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE sequence. The former explains the ill-gotten financial gains that drive the political climate, and the latter is a sprawling cri de couer for the American Experiment.
DAI FUJIKURA (composer)
My recommendation is 10% HUMAN: HOW YOUR BODY'S MICROBES HOLD THE KEY TO HEALTH AND HAPPINESS. I have been obsessed with this topic, bacterias, inside us, on us, and surround us, and how we are all let to live by them. I have even written a new orchestral work based on this called Glorious Clouds. The sense of we are all sharing the planet, humans are not controlling anything, the bacteria are!
WILLIAM RILEY LEATCH (trombonist)
My pick is SEX CRIMINALS by Matt Fraction (author) and Chip Zdarsky (artist). I read comics and one of the best series being published AT THIS VERY MOMENT is Sex Criminals. The premise is (parents, you may want to turn the dial for the next few minutes) two people can stop time when they orgasm. This title does incredibly well to normalize taboos surrounding sexuality and identity. Each issue features a long column of letters at the end from a vibrant community that is heartwarmingly inclusive and aware.
NICHOLAS PHOTINOS (Eighth Blackbird cellist and solo artist)
I'd be happy to recommend James Baldwin's THE FIRE NEXT TIME. Books sometimes present themselves to me. When I was 17, I was taking a walk with my sister in San Francisco, talking about never having read Jack Kerouac, and came across On the Road in the gutter. Maybe that only happens in SF. This was similar: a friend was staying at my place and had just finished this, and I had never read Baldwin. It's a quick read, honestly written, with so much beauty and wisdom in the face of such immense pain, as palpable in 1963 as it is today. Like this famous passage: "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."
FRED SHERRY (Juilliard School/Mannes College of Music/Manhattan School of Music cello faculty / violinist)
My first recommendation is ON FOOD AND COOKING: THE SCIENCE AND LORE OF THE KITCHEN by Harold McGee (revised edition). If you are planning to cook exotic dishes this summer, Harold McGee will tell you not how to do it, but why to do it, and why it tastes the way it does. This book includes everything from chemical analysis to historical anecdotes about food and cooking. Buon appetito. Then, if you haven’t read RAMEAU’S NEPHEW by Diderot, you must because it is funny and informative.
JAMES SMITH (Attorney, Spektral board of directors)
Skip your next planned read of a best-selling novel and read a book guaranteed to be more compelling; reserve a spot on the edge of your seat, which is where you will be through every page of JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: THE LEARNED MUSICIAN by Christoph Wolf, which illuminates the family life and career journey of one of western civilization’s true giants. This book has nearly everything. Michael Jordan was cut from his school’s basketball team for not having a foreseeable future in the game; well, Bach was cut as the church organist and conductor for lack of true musical potential. LOL! Yankees or Red Sox is no rivalry at all; look instead to the titanic contest as to the great organist of the age – Bach or Handel. Want to marvel at a workaholic who could love, kick out twenty children he truly loved and dotingly nurtured while holding down four or five jobs? This is the book. Some indication of the book’s quality: Wolf’s storytelling here was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize the year it hit the book stores.
ALEX TEMPLE (composer)
My recommendation is PSCHO NYMPH EXILE by Porpentine Heartscape. A beautiful, surreal, disturbing, touching story of queer trans love in a futuristic dystopia full of magical girls and giant monster battles. Sex, violence, drugs, kink, body horror, trauma, romance and exploitation, all conveyed through cryptic mini-chapters, heavy with neologisms and footnotes.
Joseph Campbell said you can tell a culture is in trouble when you see it scrambling to re-tell itself its shared myths; I find it interesting that across TV and film, we're seeing a return to the American master of horror, Stephen King. So, in order to obviously save the world, during our summer of fear, I re-read Stephen King's IT, read his MR. MERCEDES, and am currently reading 11/22/63. Other astounding recent reads: Colson Whitehead's THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, James Barrat's OUR FINAL INVENTION, Gregorie Chamayou's A THEORY OF THE DRONE. In the queue: Lauren Groff's FATES & FURIES, Ernest Cline's READY PLAYER ONE, and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's WAKING LIONS.