Confession: this is a meta-review, a preamble to what’s ahead. I’ve been reading lots of books, and will write about them in the next little while.
Once again the pandemic seems to be changing our rules. I saw Singin’ in the Rain a few days ago, a film that I admire for many reasons, especially its illustration of the way a changing paradigm can upend and disrupt our lives. When the talkies arrived our ideas of excellence were changed forever. My favorite number in this film is one that for me captures the essence of musicals, the idea that the music goes where the word can’t. After a certain point in this scene the words cease to mean anything at all: so no wonder they venture into something totally meaningless. No it’s not Robert Wilson but this number seems very modern to me.
At one time –long ago—I was more like the studious fellow doing the tongue-twisters, not realizing that I was taking everything too seriously.
So speaking of the new & the changing paradigms, I’ve been avoiding e-books for years.
It’s not an objection to technology, this avoidance of digital documents. But I do love the feel of a book, the smell of a book. Ah let me wander in the depths of a used book store, especially a music store. My collection? largely used books I’ve stumbled upon particularly the scores. Magic. How did they know I was looking for that opera? Of course I need to wrap my head around electronic scores, especially now that I’m composing again. Yes it’s embarrassing to admit how much I did using a pencil, although I did a few things with a tiny cheap program I bought for $20, which worked fine for the songs & music cues in Christmas at the Ivanov’s, (oh my dog so many years ago.)
But I’m now understanding something I saw before. I recall speculating on social media when I couldn’t find a bookstore that would carry Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, foolishly attributing this to something political as though the book were being suppressed. Silly me. Flash forward to 2020, when I can’t get a hard-copy of Alex Ross’s new Wagner book. I realize now that both times the key was not politics but logistics. An American best-seller will be made available in the USA first and only later will they get around to Canada & her tiny customer base. We’re like a blanket on the back of a behemoth, only useful to keep the animal warm, otherwise beyond notice. I’ve seen this pattern with other products.
So in other words I’m now fighting my aversion to the e-version. When I tried to procure a copy of Alex Ross’s new book about Wagner, the kind charming person from the bookstore said there were no copies available in this country.
This is only partially true of course because we were only speaking of hard copy. Digital versions? Different story.
I was softened up because I was already looking at other electronic volumes.
A professor I know in the USA directed me to Paulo Freire’s A Pedagogy of the Oppressed, available as a pdf for download at no charge. I’ve been reading it.
And when I was reading up on Sky Gilbert (he’s written a wonderful study of Shakespeare that I’ve been reading and I wanted to know more about him), I encountered The Canadian Encyclopedia’s entry that includes a wonderful essay about Shakespeare, that is also a free download, titled The Shakespeare Experiment: A Seduction in the form of an Essay.
I recall reading other old essays this way, such as several of Richard Wagner’s writings, and opera libretti that can be found online. It’s a way to side-step commercial market forces. Books that don’t make big $ are available this way. There are trade-offs. I can’t just shove it onto a shelf or lend it to a friend: at least I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I am shocked at how easy they are to read. I had thought the digital interface in your face would not be so comfortable. Surprise surprise.
So now I’m eagerly hunting for more books. Sometimes I get the old-fashioned hard copy. I’ve recently been reading dry Bob Woodward (a disappointment so far), funny Michael Cohen (an unexpected surprise at least so far), singer David Geary’s memoir, Sky Gilbert’s brilliant Shakespeare analysis (I am on my third trip through this remarkable study), Fareed Zacharia’s newest & John Lithgow’s funny new book.
When I need a break from all those words (just like Gene Kelly & Donald O’Connor in the video above) there’s always music. So I’ll write something about that.
And of course I’m reading Alex Ross electronically and so far loving it.
I will tell you more about these books in the next little while. I hope it’s helpful, with Christmas coming. Did you know that books make wonderful gifts?
Just checked: the Ross book is available in hardcover from amazon.ca for $47.88 (list $40 US). If you have Prime, you can get it tomorrow with free shipping. So obviously there are copies in Canada. Amazon is not my preferred vendor. Like you, I love the smell, feel and ambience of independent or used bookstores, and I lament that they are an endangered species. But when I hear that a “charming lady” at a bookstore brushed you off with bald-faced humbug, then I have to wonder if the bookstores are deliberately courting disaster.
Why not say “Why certainly, Mr. Barcza, we can get that in for you later this week. Some special charges may apply, since I’m going outside our usual suppliers. Is $55 Ok?” Then she surreptitiously orders it on amazon.ca. She only makes a profit of $7.12, but she hasn’t driven you to the e-version or to search the Internet. In fact, when she calls you the next day to say it’s in, she probably has a very very happy customer. Alas, booksellers seem content to sleepwalk towards the cliff of non-existence as they hold aloft the holy grail of “business as usual”.
Sorry for the rant, but I grieve for so many wonderful establishments that have disappeared because they mulishly adhered to outdated business practices.
In the meantime, keep safe and well.
Interesting idea, even if the rescue is, in effect a deal with the devil, Amazon being one of the chief suspects in The Case of the Missing Bookstore. Alas I’ve sold my soul more than once already. Thanks for your creative contribution.