Issue 26: Bach, Soul-Shaker
Some music notes, plus Billy Collins, the pain of life, and more.
Hello, people. Especially to you new people. And to you old people. Middles too.
A gory programming note: Sorry for the absence here. In early March, you see, I made, uh, a mistake with a chainsaw. The fairly gruesome hand injuries that resulted are now mainly healed up (still doing weekly-ish PT, though), and I can generally speaking resume my stuff. So here we are.
As inconvenient as this whole thing has been — I drop-shattered my share of glasses and bowls just trying to help with the dishes — it did give me a plot of space to think about this here newsletter. I’m going to try something a little different, a bit more structured, and that aligns with the feedback y’all send. Like:
Links to any recent writing from me (or, I guess, someone else). Some advice from my embarrassingly underutilized stacks of writing books.
Some new and upcoming books I think you should know about. And of course, what I’m reading.
You know, whatever.
Let’s try it.
Did someone forward this email to you? You can subscribe right here. (This thing is free and always will be.) 👇
Who can’t feel the soul-shaking talent of J.S. Bach?
In the traffic-jammed space between my house and my doctor’s office, I’ve been listening intermittently to Guy Jones’ podcast the Story of Classical. If you haven't listened, you can probably guess the show gives a flyover history of classical music, in this case a song-laced timeline from the baroque period to today. Jones’ treatment of the baroque period centers around Bach. The iconic composer, who made music in the first half of the 18th century, worked as a church musician. In that context, he wrote a seam-pulling range of music that far outlasted Sunday services and vespers, that shaped a whole era of music, and that, today in spring 2023, still leaves people in wonder.
Read on — seriously, check out what two professed unbelievers say about Bach’s talent — at Common Good.
Be intensely, almost comically specific about colors.
Like great writers are. In writing, you can make good use of color. Especially, it seems with blue and titles. Bluets. Blue Like Jazz. Blue Train. Bluey. You can also, I can also, do a better job of describing colors. In his brightly useful book Spunk & Bite, Arthur Plotnik catalogs several great descriptions of color by writers who’ve earned emulation. Here are five:
Brown: “… a counter spread swift hams as brown as violins.” Alain De Botton
Red-brown: “… A mustache the color of a turned slice of Apple.” Helen Dunmore
Blonde: “My hair is the color of chopped maples.” Carolyn Forche
Turquoise: “… the color of a tropical lagoon on a postcard thirty years out of date, a Gaugion syphilitic nightmare.” Jane Fitch
Yellow: “… they were the yellow of all yellows, the kind of yellow that every other yellow secretly wishes to be.” Redmond O’Hanlon
new on my list
The Natural Order of Money by Roy Sebag Out May 4
As I said elsewhere, Chelsea Green Publishers consistently publishes titles that strike right where my (of late) interests are. Like this one. This new one is no different.
The Guest: A Novel by Emma Cline. Out May 16
Remember when The Girls was everywhere in 2016 and ’17? I’m curious about this sophomore attempt.
Writers and Their Teachers edited by Dale Salwak. Out May 18
Essays about the writers who formed writers. If I don’t read about Stegner and Berry …
what I’ve been reading
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Here’s another continuing my 2023 goal of reading books I probably already should have. Not surprisingly, this story lingers in its affect, and it has with me since I finished it a few days ago. I’ve been looking for a way to revive a half-done essay about yard work, and just maybe Wang Lung’s fortunes, tied not just to his land but to his own use of it, provides that way.
Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems by Billy Collins. From conversations, it seems like you either don’t know the name Billy Collins or you already love his poetry. People in both groups should read the little collection.
Back in March, I heard Ann Voskamp give a talk in which she said something I’ve thought about probably every other day say since. She said:
Life is pain, either the pain of discipline or the pain of disappointment.
Until next time: ✌️